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Life & Work with Elaine Robnett Moore

Today we’d like to introduce you to Elaine Robnett Moore. 

Elaine, we appreciate you taking the time to share your story with us today. Where does your story begin?
I was born in Philadelphia, PA, April 7, 1944, raised in St. Louis, MO, and now reside in Maryland. I have always been an artist. It is in my DNA. My mediums of choice are the written word and beaded jewelry. I am a self-taught designer for thirty-plus years and I have been writing for over forty-five years. I find inspiration in using beads, poetry, and conversations while teaching as a means of empowering women globally. 

I am a descendant of Alexander Dumas, a writer, and Francis Guyol, a painter, which makes me a 5th generation artist. While I simply dance in their shadows it does explain, in part, ‘the why of me.’ I am eternally grateful to my parents for introducing me to art as a child. It allowed me to be ok with pursuing it as an adult. 

The early part of my adult life was taken up with raising my five children. Somewhere along the way I became a single parent supporting my family through a variety of entrepreneurial endeavors, including real estate development, travel planning, and international business consulting. Although my family and work required most of my time, energy, and emotion, I pursued my creative inclinations and am a published poet. 

My art has been developed through a lifetime of emotional, physical, and spiritual travels. Through my work, I have had the good fortune to spend time in East and West Africa, the Caribbean, and Malaysia. During these voyages, I became acquainted with the powerful spiritual aspects of indigenous cultures and the way in which that power is often manifested in jewelry, especially in beaded jewelry. 

When I moved to Silver Spring, MD in 1990 I was engaged to a gentleman from Senegal who introduced me to the West African custom of wearing beads around your waist and under your clothes. I decided I could get waist beads in the exact colors I wanted if I made my own. In the course of searching for beads, I was introduced to African trade beads and their history and I have been obsessed with beads ever since. For the first year, I shopped for beads every day. Now not every day but way too often. 

Combining the magic of the beads and my travel experiences with my own African-American heritage I began to create wearable art of color, style, and grace unlike any other. 

Eventually people I had worked with internationally, began to ask if I would consider teaching both the art of bead stringing and the business of art. And so, my journey into art added a new layer. I began teaching creative makers, jewelry making, and how to start a cottage art business. This took me to countries in Africa, the Caribbean, Malaysia, and throughout the US. 

You would be amazed at how these classes improve the income and the self-esteem of the women I teach. To watch my students, during the course of a workshop go from quiet and apprehensive, to excited and animated when they successfully create an original design is such an emotional high for them and for me. Women should always know they have value. 

In 2014 I was commissioned by the country of Rwanda to write their first manual on how to make beaded jewelry. (I had not written a manual before but I knew exactly what it should cover.) I did my homework, spent time in Kigali, Rwanda meeting with bead artist and artisans there, and wrote “Professional Jewellery Making with Beads.” My students outside of Rwanda said they needed a manual as well and so “The Art of Bead Stringing: Artist to Entrepreneur” was written. 

I teach both individual and group classes. These classes are both in-person and online. Today a lot depends on the status of the pandemic. A good number of my students both overseas and here are still in touch, both with questions, pictures of their latest designs, or updates on what they are doing. They are having rich experiences as artists and creative makers. 

Since the beginning, I have done both private and public shows. Some of my favorites have been “The Jewelry Fair” at the Walters Museum in downtown Baltimore, the John F. Kennedy Center shows in Washington, DC and EILEEN FISHER shows across the country. My work has been published and exhibited internationally. 

On my 60th birthday, I had a big celebration. I put together a book of my favorite quotes that had guided and helped me to reach sixty. I thought it could help my grands and friends as they go through life. I gave a copy to each person who attended my birthday party. It was well received and people called later to find out how they could get extra copies of it. On good council, I was advised to expand the book to include the stories around each of the quotes and how the quotes had manifested in my life and to add pictures of my jewelry with each chapter. And so, the next layer of my journey began. This book took me 15 years to finish. Quite honestly, the pandemic helped, I had time to finish it. It is called “Dancing Out Loud: Thoughts on Navigating the Rhythms of Life.” It is a memoir and is getting great reviews. 

I was then asked to do a book of just the quotes so it can be carried in a purse or pocket. I decided to make it a family affair so I asked one of my grandsons, Hugh Vincent, who is an amazing artist, (I am sure it is the bloodline) to create zen-like paintings to pair with each of the now 80 (not my age) quotes. He is 26 and his paintings are as if he turned my words into brush strokes. They are absolutely magical. The new book, “Dancing Out Loud: The Little Book of Quotes” is scheduled to be released November 21, 2021. 

Clearly, there are more books I have to do, as I have several extremely gifted grandchildren and volumes of poetry written over the years. There are always new jewelry designs that come to me and insist on being born, more poems dancing around the jewelry designs, and always students needing a little help refining their craft, or women seeking recognition of who they are. So, my work is never done. To be honest, it is not work as much as it is an honor to be used as the conduit through which this art can manifest and my students can grow. After all, as artists, that’s all we are – the channels through which the universe sends the art. How blessed we are to have been chosen to be one of the vessels. 

I serve on the board of the Arts and Humanities Council of Montgomery County, Maryland. 

I am past president of the Bead Society of Greater Washington, having served two terms, and is currently on the board of directors. 

Would you say it’s been a smooth road, and if not, what are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced along the way?
Not having the help needed to get all the work done, especially during the pandemic. 

As a Black woman, it is assumed that my work will be Afro-centric when in reality it is uniquely mine. This is a stumbling block on many occasions. Although African trade beads were my original introduction to the bead world, my designs include beads and contemporary elements from around the world, hence their universal appeal. 

Like many artists, I am undercapitalized 

I would like to travel freely as well as provide basic materials needed for classes. This requires significant funding that is not always readily available. 

Thanks for sharing that. So, maybe next you can tell us a bit more about your work?
Artist/Creative 

Jewelry Design 

Books 

I share my artistic energy and passion through lectures, international and domestic workshops, classes, exhibitions, and demonstrations. 

Is there something surprising that you feel even people who know you might not know about?
Within a couple of months of making jewelry, People began to say I should take my jewelry to the gift shops at the Smithsonian museums. One day I had an appointment to show my work to the owner of an African boutique in Washington, DC. The owner was out but his best friend was there. I asked him if he would look at my work and pass on to the owner if he thought it would be a good fit for the store. He said he would. 

I laid out my work, he looked at my pieces, and he asked me if I had ever thought about selling it to the Smithsonian. I said I would love to but I didn’t know anyone there and was not comfortable ‘cold calling’. He said would I think a manager of the African Arts Gift Shop would be a good contact. I said yes and he said that is who I am. My work ended up in 4 of the gift galleries at 4 of their museums, The African Arts, The Renwick, The Natural History, and The Arts and Industry Museums, only 4 months after I started making jewelry. 

I went to Cat Island (population less than 1,000) in the Bahamas, hired by the Bahamian Government, to teach jewelry making. I had been careful to have our contract state clearly that I would teach no more than 20 people in a class, for 5 hours per day, 5 days a week for 3 weeks. When I arrived, I had 70 people signed up for a class. 

I was alone so it was not possible to teach more than 20+ in one session. But the people really wanted to learn. So, with no additional compensation, I volunteered to teach 3 classes a day starting at 10 am and the final class ending at 12 midnight for 3 weeks – accommodating all 70 persons. It was challenging, exhausting, but so rewarding. 

Contact Info:

  • Email: elaine.beads@gmail.com
  • Website: www.elainerobnettmoore.com
  • Instagram: Elainerobnettmooredesigns
  • Facebook: Elaine Robnett Moore Designs
  • Twitter: Jewelry_Art


Image Credits
Bruce Weller
Jide Adeniyi

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