Raleigh artist’s sales on hold due to government shutdown

January 17, 2019
Rachel Stewart Jewerly

Wednesday marked Day 26 of the partial government shutdown, which has left thousands of federal workers without pay.

The impacts of the shutdown are countless and far-reaching. Raleigh artist Rachel Stewart is one of those who has been touched by the record-breaking standoff.

“I never had a time in my life where I wasn’t drawing or painting or making something,” she said. “My father was an artist and a musician, and creativity runs on his side of the family.”

For Stewart, creating is something she just has to do. She soon realized her art would become a gift to thousands of other people.

“I saw a void in the market for jewelry like the jewelry I make – jewelry specifically for black women,” Stewart said. “As a woman, it’s really important for me to have my voice and my artwork is my voice.”

Her art caught the attention of decision makers at the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C.

“They actually emailed me and said they were interested in my work for the Smithsonian gift shop, and of course, there was a lot of excitement around this museum, and I was very taken aback, very honored,” Stewart said.

Since then, tens of thousands of people have passed through the museum, which has become an international hit since opening its doors in 2016.

With her jewelry prominent in the museum’s gift shop, business was good.

“Influenced by Nola Darling, the character in Spike Lee’s movie, ‘She’s Gotta Have It,’ I have a whole Nola Darling collection,” Stewart said. “It’s probably been 80 percent of my income. It’s been really good to have that steady amount of money coming in.”

But last month, everything changed.

“To have money I count on suddenly stop and not know when it start again, it’s been terrifying for me,” she said. “Facing not being able to pay rent, I have bills coming up that I cannot pay.”

As roughly 800,000 federal workers are furloughed, Stewart said what is forgotten is the far-reaching impact on people like her.

“The people I buy my materials from, the people I pay to cut my designs, I can’t pay them,” she said. “The effects of this last longer than just, ‘Now it’s over. Here’s your back pay.’ It could take me I don’t know how long to recover.”

With her jewelry locked up in the museum, she’s focusing more on her paintings to bring in income.

“I’m an American citizen. I have to survive. I have to live. This is how I make my living,” she said.

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