Abe Lavalais doesn’t know how he would be described. Is he an artist? A manufacturer ? An inventor?
“I do all of these things,” he said. But it tends to stay more on the manufacturer side.
The jeweler mainly works with bamboo although he sometimes works with other materials such as metal, wood, bone and ebony. But bamboo is his favorite material.
Lavalais is the star artist of the month for the Rapides Parish Library. His work is on display at the main library in downtown Alexandria. Starting at 10 a.m. on Monday, he teaches a jewelry-making workshop at the Westside Regional Library located on Provine Place.
“I’m very attached to the culture and I have a lot of friends who come from Africa and I buy a lot of African beads and recycled glass – glass beads, bone beads – so we’re going to use some a lot in making the jewelry that we are going to make,” he said.
Lavalais said he was a photographer who worked in New Orleans and New York. He liked it at first and it didn’t seem like a job, but later it became a job and he didn’t like it.
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“I was looking for something else to do with it or something else to do completely,” he said. “And bamboo came into my life and I’ve been dealing with bamboo since 1995 or 1996, I think.”
How it happened is a fun story, he said. It had to do with creating a smoking pipe. He was living in New York in the 1990s when he started thinking about a way to make props that people would use while smoking dull cigarettes.
While in Los Angeles for a photoshoot, he visited a friend at his house and noticed they had bamboo on the windowsill. And he realized that the hole in the bamboo would be perfect for putting blunts in.
“I created accessories for that and started creating bamboo pipes for smokers,” Lavalais said.
He has sold pipes at music festivals, concerts, and in publications that cater to cannabis users.
“Everything was related to this industry,” says Lavalais. Then one of his girlfriends asked him, “Are you going to do anything else than that?”
“I actually made a pair of earrings,” he said. This is how he started making jewelry.
He explained that he would make bamboo beads and carve different designs into them. Then he started selling them to various bead shops in New York.
“Then I made a pair of earrings with the pearls,” he said. “And then everything else started to happen.”
He wanted to create a different type of earring, so he created the ear spear.
“It was two pieces of bamboo that were put together and they sounded like they were going through my ear,” he said. “So that was my big hit in Brooklyn. The girls really liked it.”
Someone who carried one of his ear spears was featured in The New York Times. For him, that exposure led to fashion shows in Bryant Park and other things like being noticed by Essence.
So, because of the ear spear, he started making jewelry. He wholesaled it for a while before he started selling it at craft and art shows.
Over the years, he attended different schools to study jewelry making, including 92nd Street Y in New York City and Stephen F. Austin University State University in Nacogdoches, Texas, where he said he was able to improve his jewelry making skills. as a jeweler.
Apart from bamboo, he also makes jewelry from other materials like metal and sterling silver with which he has made rings with gemstones and stuff like that.
But even after all that listening, he said his material of choice was bamboo.
To promote her art and the work of other black artists, Lavalais hosts a Facebook Live every Friday with her friend Ella Isaac, a hatter from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, called “Lavalais and Ella Live”.
“I show off my jewelry and my friend shows off her hats,” he said.
“During Covid, when no one could come around, I started doing these shows online and then I started inviting other artists to come over so I could promote them and my people could have a chance to ‘buy from them,’ he said.
He says he travels a lot around the country so he has a large audience that he wants to introduce these artists to.
Lavalais also has a website where he sells his jewelry bamboozlejewelry.com.
The Rapides Parish Library’s Artist of the Month program was started by Karen Riley Simmons. Their works are exhibited in one of the branches of the local library. Artists can also give art classes and workshops. Another program she started was the Cenla Author of the Month to showcase local authors and their works.
Simmons said she started the program to bring awareness to local artists and authors in the area. For more information, call (318) 445-2411 ext. 1026.