Former Bead Shop Employee Plans to Open Museum of Beadwork This Fall

Sewing and Jewelry Making

Kristina Skillin traveled bumpy roads and took many paths, but they all led to her starting a museum. Born and raised in Portland, Maine, she’s been adventurous, creative, curious, and passionate about learning new things. She earned her first bachelor’s in metals and jewelry during her undergraduate years at Savannah College of Art and Design. She was an aspiring blacksmith at the time and dabbled in silversmithing. To afford tuition, Kristina put her sewing skills to use. After working a few jobs (hat making, fabric architecture), she realized a 9-5 wasn’t in her plans, so she started her sewing and jewelry making business. At the time, it was only a money maker. Her love for business had faded.

Then she took her interest in the history of sewing and jewelry, and emphasizing research, languages, and early history/prehistory, she went back to school. She obtained a second bachelor’s with a minor in archeology which she loved. Then went on to the University of Aberdeen in Scotland where she received a Master’s degree in Archaeology. While living in the country she also became a traditional kilt maker because crafters never die.

Falling Leaves Necklace by Melissa Shippee

The Years at Caravan Beads

When Kristina returned to the US five years ago, she had a graduate degree with no career to show for it. She started working at Caravan Beads, a local family-owned bead shop in Portland, Maine. While working there she applied for 60 museum and archeology positions and received only one callback. After two years of employment, Caravan’s owner, Heather Khan, saw potential and suggested that the two of them start a bead museum right there in Portland. Kristina jumped at the opportunity to turn her experiences into something good, and hopefully provide others trying to get into art and museum worlds with opportunities she was not able to reach.

Loomwork by artist Dedra Weiss

Putting the Bead Museum Plan In Action

Before the pandemic hit, Heather and Kristina started the 501c3 paperwork process. They created a fundraising campaign on Kickstarter that unfortunately went live one day after the state of Maine went on lockdown, but they were determined to carry on. They set the fundraising goal at a small amount, enough to open the museum doors. Even though they were hoping to raise $50k, they set the goal at $15k and got a little over that. Kristina learned never to be afraid to ask for more money. 

Portland, Maine’s Museum of Beadwork

Portland, Maine, is a coastal tourist destination with a strong artist community and the New England hard work vibe. There are many quaint shops and boutiques where you’ll find glassblowing, blacksmith, and leatherworking artists, to name a few. The city also hosts a variety of creative retreats during the summer, and is known for historic homes, lighthouses, and museums.

The goal of the Museum of Beadwork is to show beadwork as an art, not a craft. Every culture has a traditional beading history, and often anything female-dominated in the creative space gets viewed as merely a craft. Bead artists need to be recognized.

Kristina Skillin working on the Beaded Square Project.

The museum will serve all who are artistic enthusiasts – the beading world tends to be predominantly women who are middle-aged and over, but the Museum of Beadwork plans to help the younger generation as well. Initially, it will be primarily exhibitions, artist lectures, and hands-on workshops due to minimum staff. Later on, visitors can expect more interactive activities, sculptural beadwork, website showcases of photos, and a new artist spotlight. Artists with even a year or two of experience can have their work featured at the museum. As museum director, Kristina wants to change the narrative of curated goods to be much more inclusive. 

In addition, the museum plans to have community projects, including the MOB (Museum of Beadwork) annual challenge. Wings and Strings was last year’s challenge, where beaders were invited to make beaded bugs. This year’s challenge hasn’t been announced yet. There is however a community project underway that is star themed. The museum will feature these stars for a limited period of time and then they will be available for sale as a fundraiser. The community project, “Enter The Stars” is accepting submissions until June 1, 2022.

Firefly Queen by Melanie Chouinard for the Wings and Stings Beadwork Challenge.

When Starting A Museum

“In the beginning, you don’t know what you don’t know.” Kristina shared how she and Heather received help from nonprofit organizations: The American Alliance of Museums, Alliance of Local and State History, Maine Association of Nonprofits, and Maine Philanthropy Center. These organizations assisted them in establishing bylaws, code of ethics, board selection, donor relations, and fundraising resources.

Every path led to The Museum of Beadwork.

Museum of Beadwork will host a sneak peek preview before the opening. Currently, the museum expects to open sometime in October.


IG: @museumofbeadwork



Tracy Proctor
March 31, 2022 at 12:02 pm

What a fabulous accomplishment!

    Carriece Jefferson
    March 31, 2022 at 3:25 pm

    Tracy, yes it is and it Kristina is an amazing person. It was an honor to learn about her journey and how she kept the faith throughout everything.

Leave a Reply