Hidden Gems: Argenta Bead Co.

Argenta Bead Company is a longstanding component of the central Arkansas crafting landscape. For more than 27 years, the store has been a happy place for jewelry designers, artists, hobbyists and anyone searching for something extra special or sparkly. 

Beads of all kinds fill the SoMa store from top to bottom. No wall, case, bowl or vessel is left empty. Once you immerse yourself into the circus of bead magic here, it’s easy to feel like a kid in a candy store.

Ahead of the shop’s upcoming rebrand, we roll up our sleeves and dive straight into the beads. Read on for our conversation with co-owner, manager and multimedia artist Rachel Fletcher.

Credit: Jason Masters

When did Argenta Bead Company open and what is your role?

RF: My mother Ellie opened the store over 27 years ago in a small space behind Argenta Drug that is now The House of Art. We’re in our third expanded location, and I’ve been the manager and co-owner since 2012.

The shop has an extensive collection of all different types of beads and jewelry products. What can shoppers expect to find in-store?

RF: Semi-precious stones, crystals, pearls, wood, shell, bone, seeds, nuts, metals and artisan glass are the most common materials our beads are made from. They’re sourced from all over the world. We also have an extensive selection of tools and supplies. Wire, fibers, leather, cords and chain are a few examples of materials we use to create jewelry and other beaded crafts.

Credit: Jason Masters

Tell us about your beading journey.

RF: Eleven years ago I relocated from Philadelphia to be near family and started working in my mom’s bead store. I had experience with fiber arts and other crafts, but had never made jewelry. I instantly fell in love with beading and wanted to learn everything! Today, I’m still learning and expanding my skill set. Jewelry is truly a multimedia art form and I love how many directions it can take you.

Where do you turn to for creative inspiration?

RF: Nature and history have always been huge sources for me. Slow fashion and craft preservation are very important to me, so when I create something I want it to be sustainable, and when I teach something it’s because I want those techniques to remain relevant. More and more things are being made by machines in a fraction of the time it takes to make by hand, so a lot of traditional crafts have been set aside for new technologies. It’s really important to me that I help maintain that handmade ethos in our community.

How would you describe Argenta Bead Co.?

RF: So many people tell me it’s their “happy place” and I’ll never get tired of hearing it. We’re all about color, creativity and fun. Giving people a therapeutic outlet has been extremely rewarding. “This is my therapy” is another customer statement I always love to hear. It makes me feel like we’re making a difference.

Credit: Jason Masters

How has the move from Argenta to SoMa been?

RF: Moving our huge inventory was certainly a challenge, but we definitely get more foot traffic here. The support we’ve received from the other SoMa businesses has been above and beyond, and our building being attached to South Main Creative is like being next door neighbors with your best friend. It feels really special.

How has the shop adjusted since the pandemic?

RF: It’s been a challenging few years. We’ve had to cut back on staffing and the hours that we are open. We’re just now getting back to having guests work on projects here in the store, and we’re asking that reservations be made ahead of time to ensure accommodations.

Credit: Jason Masters

What’s something people might be surprised to learn about Argenta Bead Co.?

RF: We do repairs! I can’t tell you how many times someone has come in with something that’s been broken for years, but they held onto it for its sentimental value. I get a lot of joy from restoring these types of items for people and getting to see their reaction when they can wear or display it again.

What are the most popular and rare beads?

RF: Stone beads have always been a favorite, sought after for their natural beauty and metaphysical properties. We have all kinds of random, rare treasures that you can’t find anywhere else. I actually have beads made from real meteorites, ancient Roman glass, fossils and teeth. It’s really crazy, all the things humans have made into beads throughout the course of our history.

Do you have a personal favorite?

RF: My personal bead obsession is in the realm of Czech glass. As early as the eighth and ninth centuries, in what was then known as Bohemia, the Celts were crafting beads from glass. By the 18th century, it had become a huge industry, and Czechoslovakia is still considered to produce the highest quality artisan glass beads to this day. The craftsmanship that goes into making them, and the techniques that have been passed down and refined for so many generations, are just as beautiful to me as the beads themselves. There are too many shapes and styles to carry them all, but we still source much of our selection from historic cottage-style bead makers that today are being threatened by inferior, large-scale production in other countries.

Credit: Jason Masters

Will you be hosting more classes or events in the future?

RF: Every first Friday we stay open late for SoMa After Dark. We always have a beginner, budget-friendly project anyone can walk in and make, without the pressure of creating a masterpiece or spending a bunch of money on supplies. We have a variety of class examples on our site that can be reserved privately or for a small group. I’m also really looking forward to my in-depth courses happening at the Arkansas Museum of Fine Arts. I think it will be really rewarding to see the progress my students can achieve during this longer class format.

Are there any exciting future plans for the shop?

RF: We’re going through so many changes right now. It’s a lot of work, but it’s also really exciting and it feels like the right time. Launching my own jewelry line is something I’ve been working on for years, and e-commerce options are practically necessary for today’s small business, so those are the biggest things that are coming. It’s been almost six years since our move to this side of the river, and you can expect to see a name change and rebranding as part of these new developments.

Find a class, inquire about repairs and learn more on the Argenta Bead Co. website. Stay up to date by following along on Instagram and Facebook.

Credit: Jason Masters

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