We admire the beauty of a necklace, but how many of us regard the elements—the beads—which shape that beauty?
We admire an artist, but how often do we consider the experiences that have shaped that artist’s work?
Leo Hakola’s life is a string of beads—moments that have molded him into one of the world’s premier bead artists. From a young boy enamored with Native American craftsmanship to one of Hollywood’s leading necklace designers, Hakola’s love of beads has taken him around the world and opened doors he never dreamed he’d enter.
“I fell into something precious,” he says, recalling one of his earliest memories. “I saw beadwork at powwows at three years old. It struck me. I learned to see that color and designs have an emotional value. Beads affect people. They’ve affected me.”
Hakola describes bead design as a blend of engineering, art, physics, and psychology all rolled into one. His appreciation for Native American beadwork has taken him across the country, living and working beside the Navajo, Santo Domingo Pueblo, Zun, and most of the Rio Grande Pueblos. He has even spent time abroad, designing beads and masks in the styles of West African tribal cultures.
Where others have exploited the heritage of these peoples, Hakola has demonstrated his upmost respect. He is no pilferer of indigenous cultures. In fact, he has been an invited guest at prominent Native American trade and art shows.
“I have supplied beads to indigenous dancers and historical reenactors like Bad Hand [Michael Terry],” says Hakola, emphasizing the skill and sincerity of his work.
Hakola’s reputation earned him a job designing necklaces for Mary McDonnell in Dances with Wolves, and he would go on to create pieces for other Hollywood stars, both on and off set. He worked on costume design alongside Dave Powell in a number of Westerns, and one of Hakola’s necklaces was work by Johnny Depp in the blockbuster Pirates of the Caribbean.
Today, Hakola continues to embrace his love of beads, while exploring a variety of other arts including illustration and sculpture. He also lends his skills as a teacher, instilling the next generation with the fundamentals of bead design.
“The bead thing—I just never got over it,” he says. “You can go places through art.”
For more information, call (307) 248-1707. Follow Leo Hakola on Facebook.