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Cultural DNA (with apologies to true geneticists)

Cultural DNA is a workshop in which members of a community are invited to decorate a wooden bead and thread it onto a strand of ‘DNA’ in celebration of feisty women like Isabella, whose courage and determination to seek equality changed the DNA of our culture.


Bead decoration Roath, Cardiff

Decorating beads in Roath, Cardiff

Strand of 'Cultural DNA'

A finished strand of 'DNA'

Decorating a bead

Some people prefer sewing to drawing

Close up of DNA strand

Footballs, flowers, globes - every bead is different

How does it work?

The workshop can be set up either as a drop-in activity in a larger setting such as a fête or a conference, or as an hour long session with time for discussion and reflection. In both cases, I supply wooden beads, a range of media with which to decorate the beads and the string which will become the ‘DNA’.

The aim is to assemble a whole set of ‘chromosomes’, one from each venue, into a grand, final celebratory installation.


How did the idea come about?

In 2013, I received funding from the Arts Council of Wales to investigate different ways of telling Isabella’s story. One day, as I researched how people had written biographies and memoirs, I came across this:

‘........ Fathers and sons, four generations strung together like beads on a twisting double helix of shared DNA. ... Climbers roped together through space and time, mostly barely conscious of distance twitches on the line, but sometimes pulled up sharp by a sudden unmistakeable tug from the past.’ (Richard Madeley, Fathers and Sons)

I was hooked....beads on a string linked to DNA and inheritance? Why, it paralleled the way Isabella had passed her beads, as well as her genes, onto me. The idea had scientific credibility too - I found pictures


DNA beads on a string


It was time to act. I was one of Isabella’s direct descendants, I shared her genes, but the idea of DNA - the double helix that determines the hows and whys of life - has gone well beyond its purely genetic origins. Cultural DNA has become a key concept. One guru describes it as:

Cultural DNA is the way things get done around here and the why things get done around here


Isabella was one among many strong-minded women whose determination to gain equality with men changed the cultural DNA of the western world. They changed every single one of us lives our lives. How about a workshop that remembered and reflected on that change?



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