Heavy Metal Bands

HANDS UP Jewelry designer Ellen Mote poses with some of her tools in the home studio where she works. Mote is wearing one of her own handmade designs, the Gris Collar. Photo credit: Trey Honeycutt

A white house brightened by the sun sits on its clover-green bed. Two rocking chairs on the porch wait for their owners. This is jewelry designer Ellen Mote’s home in the heart of Waco.

Mote said she often looks to architecture near and far from home to inspire her EM Jewelry + Design work. The braided and gold jewelry from her most recent collection is, appropriately enough, just like her new home—both striking and minimal.

But don’t use the word “minimal” to describe Mote’s long necklaces and looped earrings.

“I don’t like minimal. It’s cool, but it’s so overused,” Mote said.

Mote said she prefers the word “shapeful” (a term she admits is made up) to describe her pieces. They, like her house, are visually arresting. For the Gris Collar, Mote fixed milky stones to the ends of metal loops, and for the Perma Necklace from her latest collection, she hung gold half-moons from blue ropes.

“I don’t see anything like it anywhere else,” said Kate Duncan, who stocks Mote’s jewelry in her store Wildland Supply Co. “I look at a lot of jewelry for the store, and I didn’t see anyone using the materials she’s using, like the yarns. She’s obviously a perfectionist.”

Mote’s unique qualities come from her background in visual art. She got a degree in metalsmithing and jewelry design from Texas Tech University and spent her undergraduate career making conceptual (and unwearable) jewelry designs. Her pieces were complex and sculptural then—the distant ancestors of the understated pieces she produces now.

“I actually thought I would never make jewelry because I didn’t understand how I could simplify it to make it something wearable,” Mote said.

It was only when she left Texas for Portland, Ore., a move precipitated by her husband Tommy Mote’s brewing career, that she found a way to make her work practical. Mote apprenticed herself to Portland jewelry designer Hannah Ferrara, who used the same traditional metalsmithing techniques Mote knew but applied them to the wearable (and minimal) jewelry designs of Another Feather.

While Ferrara’s influence may be visible in Mote’s smooth and often circular designs, since moving to Waco in the fall Mote has turned the focus to her own design business. She has produced two collections under the EM Jewelry + Design name. While her first set used a wide range of shapes and colors, she has narrowed the focus this time to a signature indigo and pendulous semi-circular shapes.

Though Mote said it took her some time to adjust to the slower pace of Waco life, the usually measured designer grows excited and expressive when she talks about her new city.

“I love Waco, and the Lord has given me a huge heart for the people here and for the city,” Mote said. “I had so much pride moving here, thinking, ‘I’m too good for this city, and I deserve better.’ But just in January of this year, the Lord was like, ‘You don’t need those big-city things to love the people around you.’”

Mote has tried to use her jewelry to make her a place in the Waco community. She uses locally sourced materials when she can; the rope in her necklaces comes from Homestead Heritage. While she sells a selection of her pieces at Wildland, she has also hosted local release parties and pop-up shops to brings friends and guests together around her work.

“What I love about being a jewelry designer in Waco is the support of the community. There aren’t that many jewelry designers in town, so it’s been really amazing having different people support it and embrace it,” Mote said.

Duncan said it’s important to support artisans like Mote to make sure they stay local.

“If she feels like there aren’t opportunities here, then she might leave,” Duncan said. “And we want cool people to stay in Waco.”

But Mote said she has grand plans for her EM business.

“It’s very scary to say, but I see it big. One day in the future, I want to have my own store,” Mote said.

She said the low cost of living in Waco has made getting that business off the ground much easier, and the slower pace of life here has allowed her to focus on her work. She tries to get into the studio at 9 a.m. every day and takes breaks to walk and look at the other houses around her green neighborhood.

“Every step of the process, it never feels like work. I love it so much,” Mote said. “Even when it’s frustrating or time-consuming or hurts my neck from looking down so much, at the end of the day I can’t wait to get back in the studio the next morning.”

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