of Peter Francis , Jr.
I was born the year before the baby-boomers on the day the US dropped the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima. ("Two bombs on one day," someone has commented.) I grew up in central Kansas, a remnant of true cowboy country. Hometown is Ellsworth, Kansas, then the largest city in America (USA) with an all-volunteer fire department and the smallest with two independent (weekly) newspapers.
Dad is an Episcopal priest; Mom taught English and journalism. Dad ran a home for boys in trouble and my best friends while growing up were petty criminals from such exotic places as Seattle, Cleveland, St. Louis and Wilmington DE.
I have always been a collector. As a kid it was stamps, coins, rocks, shells; things that were already well catalogued (but note the picture). Later, I became interested in objects not well documented, such as maps, rock 'n' roll and playing cards.
Other places and cultures have always fascinated me. I can remember a world map from about the age of five, when I was astonished to see how much of the globe England "owned." As a kid I traced out maps of countries, put in their major cities and worked out population distributions. I still know the name of the fifteen "Soviet Republics."
England was a special goal. From the seventh grade I started saving to go there. The chance came in my junior year in college when the school sponsored a trip for eight of us that took us from Glasgow to Damascus. I was hooked on traveling.
Public speaking and writing (initially as a journalist) were two skills I picked up early. My first regular job at fourteen was working for one of the hometown newspapers. One of my first assignments was to interview an Indian who had come to the US to study agricultural practices. I asked him where in India he was from and he said, "Hyderabad."
"Do you know where it is?"
"Well, it's in the South."
"My goodness, you are the first American I have met who ever heard of Hyderabad." [Actually there are two; the other one is in Pakistan now. I've been to both.]
I went to college at now Park University near Kansas City, where everything is up to date, or so the song says. Then Park College, it was a small but good school and I got a well-rounded education, with an emphasis on history, philosophy, art and the scientific method.
My next step was General (Episcopal) Seminary in New York. From the first day, I knew I was not going to be a priest, but I sure liked staying in the City. I taught the first accredited course on the history of rock 'n' roll, joined a street gang (we aspired to be a motorcycle gang, but none of us had cycles), joined MOMA (Museum of Modern Art), attended concerts, movies and gallery openings and generally had a grand time.
But, I wanted to see more of the world. In 1970 I decided I would make my way to Iran, as English teaching opportunities were opening there. It took a year to have the Army certify that I am legally blind so they could tell me they didn't want me. In that year I saved enough money to do some traveling before going to Iran.
In April 1971 I crossed the Atlantic on one of the last commercial turbo-prop flights. I spent more than a half a year traveling around Europe, then settled for a year in a small fishing village on Spain's Costa del Sol. I wanted to see whether I should paint or write. The latter won out. I had planned to visit more of Spain and Eastern Europe on my way to Iran, but got sidetracked.
And what a sidetrack. The next three years I spent teaching English in Morocco and being transported to the Middle Ages. I left by going through the Sahara to Tunis, by boat to Sicily, by train along the insole of Italy, another boat to Greece and then by land through Turkey, finally to Iran.
I taught in Isfahan for two and a half years. They have a saying about the city, "Isfahan is half the world." In the local language, Farsi, it rhymes.
It was in Iran that I become interested in beads. It was almost a community effort. One colleague sold me the beads she had collected for a couple of years, and two others gave me reading materials. Still others indulged my passion for visiting ancient sites or encouraged my research.
I found the best source of information was in the archaeological literature. I lived a few blocks from the British Council and often read in its library. Before leaving Isfahan in late 1977 I had given a talk on Beads in Iran to three different audiences.
My next destination was India. Another colleague in Isfahan had written to a professor friend of his there asking for the best place for me to study archaeology. He replied, "There is only one place, Deccan College" (now also a university).
Before going to Deccan College in Poona (or Pune), I spent a couple months in Egypt, and flew back to Iran. I went to India overland on a private bus. In Afghanistan I visited my first beadmaker and was caught in the only war I have been in yet (knock wood). The bus then went through Pakistan, with a side trip to the Swat Valley.
And then India. I immediately felt the vastness of the subcontinent and fell in love with it. At Poona it took a month of knocking on doors and banging on tables to enroll in the archaeology course in Deccan College. I did well (actually record-breaking) my first term, but the government would not allow me to change from a tourist to a student visa. I got my own "Quit India" notice.
The next couple of months I was on the road again through Pakistan, Syria, Turkey, Greece, Venice, Czechoslovakia, Germany and England. This time most stops were to research beads. I returned to the US in July 1979, having been gone more than eight years.
It was strange. The American pop media, on which I was once an authority is a complete blank to me during the '70s and most of the '80s.
Even before I had left the States, the family had moved from Kansas to Lake Placid, NY, so Dad could open a new Boy's Home. Hence, when I returned it was to the site of the XIII Winter Olympic Games. I was sort of a local and looked for a job as a chance to be inside an Olympic Game. I ran the daily paper for the athletes' village. It was great fun. I also published my first books and gave my first lecture tour on beads.
Back to India. Schooling became superfluous because I had self-taught myself the curriculum and no one could tutor me about beads. I now work with my former professors as colleagues.
Since the early 1980s I have been traveling for bead research. I have now gone around the world ten (or is it twelve?) times, visited over 60 countries and speak-read-understand about two dozen languages.
Sometimes I have only a few weeks or months to visit a country. But when I have the chance, I try to understand the culture, learn the language and make friends. Much of this is for beads.
But it is not just collector avarice. I don't even "collect" beads any more. They are added to the Center's study collection only for their value in research. I am as eager to read documented material as get a new bead. I rarely buy them, except when visiting beadmakers. It's not about beads. It's about people.
This is where I'll stop for now. Since 1977 I have published over 300 articles, papers, chapters, book reviews, essays, monographs and books, all on beads. They are of public record. Additionally, a number of articles have been published about me.
The newest stage in my life involves this Web site, and you can discover for yourself what my interests are and what I have been doing lately. Enjoy.
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