African American artisans of style use their creativity, skills, and knowledge to support themselves and their families and to meet their clients’ specialized needs and desires. For example, Thomas Tate, Lawrence Berry, and Andrea Bray create customized shoes and hats for their socially mobile and politically savvy patrons in the nation’s capital. These skilled artisans are conscious of their role in helping their clients to present themselves in a way that commands respect and conveys images of power.
Artisans of style also experiment and collaborate with each other and their clients to set standards and innovate new styles. In Washington, D.C., a network of such artisans was part of a seminal creative collective known as Belmont Arts. From 1991 to 2002, their headquarters on Belmont Road in the Adams Morgan neighborhood was the center of collaboration, enterprise, and mutual support among artists such as Januwa Moja Nelson, Brenda Winstead, Marvin Sin, and Akosua Bandele, who make wearable art inspired by their African Heritage and for patrons who express their identification with Africa through what they wear.
Although they may create for different communities of style, these artisans all share deep connections to a history of outstanding craftsmanship in the service of African American identity and expression.