I recently started befriending Madam Mary Yam, and was very much fascinated and amazed with the scores of animals, buildings, well-known cartoon characters and objects she had made by threading colourful beads together.
Mary, in her seventies, first became interested in this craft in 1995 after her heart operation. During her convalescence, she learnt the art of making items such as dolls, bags and tissue-box covers from beads. Mary said it takes about a week to complete a simple object. To her, bead-threading is a therapeutic process. It engages her, keeps her mind active, and gives her a sense of positive self esteem.
Mary was born in China and came to Singapore with her parents when she was eight years old. She does not have much education and her fluent Mandarin was self- taught. In her younger days, Mary worked as an operator in a semi-conductor company and a cleaner at Changi Airport.
As a Catholic, she has sold many of her works of art through her church’s charity projects. This has given her more confidence and a greater sense of purpose. Mary now contributes to her church’s charitable efforts once a month by spending her time on the needy.