Liberian artists, especially those involved in traditional arts and craft work, are finding it difficult to lure customers from an entrenched preference for foreign crafts over local ones. Part of the reason may be justified, as the quality of craftsmanship in some locally made products are usually below accepted international standards. Yet, even the few who are able to produce beyond standard quality end up with their crafts collecting dust on shelves because buyers are few and far between.
However, with little or no support, Liberian artists continue, undeterred, driven by a wellspring of passion for creative works.
One of those talented craftsmen is 29-year-old T-Boy S. Moore, a resident of Police Academy in Paynesville and a maker of beaded products, ranging from shoes, slippers, necklaces, bag and other items.
Beaded products are becoming quite fashionable in Liberia’s casual dress code society, especially among young men, who take them as bracelets.
Mr. Moore also makes drinking goblets from coconut shells, which he designs with colorful paint.
He said his passion for Liberia’s culture led him to dream of becoming a traditional craftsman since he was 5 years old.
“By that time, my father had died, and as the only child of my father, there was no one to help me achieve my dream and to sustain myself.
“I love culture and everything pertaining to Liberian culture. I admire it so much and interestingly, nobody taught me how to do it and I am happy to produce these crafts on my own,” he says, smiling.
Dressed in a short gown and trousers suit made of mud cloth, he carries a crown on his head from beads forming the colors of the Liberian flag. His footwear is crafted from shower slippers, which he converted to a closed-toe slipper with materials from an old suitcase he found at a dumpsite. With a large bag made of beads on his back and a fan made from eagle feathers, one might confuse him for a “medicine man.”
“No, I’m not a medicine man oh,” he responds, laughing, “this is just my expression of culture. I am just proud of who I am and where I am from.”
He recalled how one day, he bought a roll of crocheting thread with L$380, and made a crochet of the straps of slippers. The first two pairs he made were sold for about US$20 each. He reinvested the profit from that sale in some beads and other items to venture into making sandals and other footwear.
“The bag on my back,” he says, “the design for it came to me in a dream. I dreamt I had this bag on my back and I was going somewhere. So, when I woke up, the thought of this strange bag was on my mind so much that I told my self I had to make the bag. Here it is now; it took me two months and two weeks to make.”
Moore, who dropped out of school in the fifth grade, says Liberians are talented and gifted people and as such he is appealing to government and well-meaning Liberians to invest in the traditional and cultural crafts “and give it a chance to grow, because it has to do with promoting Liberia’s tradition.”
According to him, there are a lot people imitating his works now, but do not know the right materials to use. However, as a result of the few that have figured out his formula, Moore has had to drop the price of his US$20 footwear, for example, by more than 50% in order to remain competitive. But he says he is still able to make ends meet by buying his materials in bulk in order to keep his unit prices low.
Mr. Moore concluded that the talent is there, but there’s no finance to expand his arts and crafts business. Meanwhile, he is usually found around the diplomatic enclave of Mamba Point, Monrovia where, he says, he gets more business.