The Art of Being Useful
As Loretto members demonstrate and march, Robert Strobridge (Stro) is with us in his well-made, colorful banners. They draw attention to the cause and announce the presence of the Loretto Community. Wherever Loretto members use them, they are noticed and photographed. His banners have been at demonstrations from our southern border to Standing Rock. We have used them to advocate for love of neighbor, for free speech, for science, against human-engendered global warming, for literally every good cause. The banners have advocated for peace, for justice, for the rights of farm workers, for women. They have marched along with the causes of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Cesar Chavez.
Stro’s striking banners
To me, Stro’s most iconic banner is the black silhouette of the crucified body of Christ on a dollar sign on a brilliant red background. All of his designs are striking, and the choice of quotes add to the impact of his work.
Stro first met Loretto when the Webster University art department hired him. When I called him in France this spring, he said he met Gabriel Mary Hoare in St. Louis; in fact, Gabe met him at the airport. He swears that even then, she referred to him as “dear friend, Robert Strobridge.” It is interesting that his and Gabe’s years have marched on together; Gabe turned 90 in March and Stro turns 90 this June. Stro was at Webster for six years in the mid-to-late ‘60s during which time he got to know many Loretto members. As we talked on the phone, he mentioned Rose Annette Liddell, Mary Martha Mueller and Marie Ego.
How Stro ended up in France
Stro was born in Colorado, but his family soon moved to Iowa. After high school, he studied art at the Kansas City Art Institute. He was teaching in Milwaukee at Layton School of Art when Webster University art department hired him. In 1968 Stro visited Ohio State University (OSU) to collaborate on art paradigms for a St. Louis educational organization, Central Midwestern Regional Educational Laboratory (CEMREL). At that time, I was studying art at OSU. I ended up working on the project that Stro introduced. Another result of his visit was that he hired an Ohio State grad for Webster’s art department. Tom Lang is still at Webster as head of the art department and keeps in contact with Stro. The following year, OSU hired Stro. He met his life partner, Joe Guerinot, and since Joe was a Francophile, the next move was to Dordogne, France. Stro still lives and plies his trade of the art of being useful in the same area.
Stro just keeps on going
Stro says he keeps moving by going between his sewing machine and his ironing board. He also likes to spend time reading history and historical novels. He still makes banners upon request. Sadly, many of the banners that he made to speak to the world are wall decorations now.
If you would like to sit down and hear from Stro himself about what he is doing, type into your browser for the video “Robert Strowbridge, Master of the Art of Being Useful” or go to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OcSddUia7As. There, you will see the colorful bags he is making as gifts to the Haitian people and hear about his attitude toward life. In 2012 he said he could make seven bags a day. Now he says he makes about 30 a month. He doesn’t work on them every day. I understand from Mary Martha that his connection with Haiti started with the Corbetts, a couple he knew at Webster who was actively working in and for Haiti long ago.
Stro, as you celebrate your 90th birthday on June 25, may you have more peaceful years of living the art of being useful. We thank you for working to make the world a more caring and colorful place.