Beading Group aims to keep tradition alive

Free art group aims to share beading tradition

Tom Strobel has a vast number of good stories. But if you outright tell him that, he’ll shrug you off and try to make you believe he’s just a boring old guy. Which is the furthest thing from the truth; anyone who has met Tom knows he is “a bottomless pit of information and good stories.” Tom, a Vietnam Veteran, is a local Ojibwe artist, creating beautiful pieces of native traditional work; gorgeous items made out of deerskin and other leathers, which he then adorns with beads. And like his ancestors before him, he wants to pass down the knowledge of native traditions to the next generations. Leading a free beading group at LOLA Arts, he gets to do just that. 

“It’s important that these traditions don’t get lost, “ Tom says. “Not enough people know how to do this traditional beading, and not enough kids these days seem to want to learn.” Tom enjoys teaching and leading the group. “I like to see everyone get excited about beading. I like the camaraderie and friendship.” Beading is notoriously delicate and intricate work, using both hands and sharp focus, but it allows chatting while you work. It’s a great place to share recipes, funny anecdotes, and stories of their lives; the good and bad. Stories of their nephew triumphs to stories of loved ones’ health struggles. The camaraderie of the group is tangible. Judy and her husband John are regulars. “We moved up here last September, and it’s been such a great opportunity to meet people. Tom has become such a good friend,” she says. “We are so fortunate to have Tom and this group. He’s a wealth of knowledge.”

The participants love the ability to ask Tom and the other members questions and opinions; how do you tie this off or what color threads or beads or patterns they should try. “You can’t always get the answers you’re looking for on YouTube,” says group member Sue. “ There isn’t as much information specific on Native American beading (verses other styles) so being able to ask Tom specific questions and see first hand is a treasure. ” She adds, “This group (and beading) is therapeutic. You can be having a crappy day, and come to beading, and your day just gets better. It’s relaxing.” Another beader, Janice, agrees. “It is relaxing. And it’s great seeing other people who are as equally excited about beading as you. Sometimes when you show your family your work, they don’t care as much, but when you share with other beaders, they get excited and ask questions and know how much work went into it. And it’s fun to see everyone’s own styles.”

LOLA Arts recently received a large donation of beads and accessories, and has free materials to get any new participants started. It’s a great way to get introduced to the art form. “Just an incredible amount of gorgeous beads,” says Audrey, a newcomer to the group, who will soon be going back to North Carolina for the winter. “These items (donation) are just amazing, and I love knowing that it’ll go back to this community of creators.” She’s been coming up to Vilas County for the summer ‘“forever”, and is already planning on what projects she wants to complete over the winter so she can show Tom next summer when she’s back. 

“Our Art Groups are a way to create community,” says McCall Hocking, Marketing Coordinator at LOLA. “I think folks, especially since the pandemic, are looking to create connections. Not only do people get a place to create art around others, but the groups become like little families. They bring each other baked goods, share stories about their lives. When the part time residents come back, or a former group member who moved away visits, it’s like a little happy reunion.” LOLA has a total of three art groups; free drop-in’s that meet weekly based on the art medium. Watercolor Wednesdays and Fiber Fridays have been around for a few years, with Beading Fridays starting this past winter. The free Beading Friday group meets in the downstairs LOLA classroom from 10am-12pm during September, and will move to 1-3pm in October and beyond. LOLA is located at 4262 County B, Land O’ Lakes, WI. Visit their website at for more information. 

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