Jo’l Moore is more than just a local artist or even a manager of a used book store. She is a wild child who gives of not only her time but of her heart.
Moore is serving her fourth stint as president of the Belen Art League, and is also manager of Books on Becker, the second-hand book store located a couple doors down.
Julie Mehrl, a fellow artist and BAL member, describes Moore as having an infectious energy with a great sense of humor, but her devotion to making the community a better place is why she nominated this self-proclaimed troublemaker as an Unsung Hero.
“Jo’l has done (a lot) to make her community a better place,” Merhl said. “I really do not know how she finds the time (and) energy to do all she does, as well as being a wife and mother.”
Moore learned the value of responsibility as the oldest of six siblings. She grew up in the northern California city of Arcata, a fairly-small coastal college town.
Her earliest memory of getting in trouble was when she got sent home from catechism after proclaiming she wanted to be a priest.
“They said I had to be a nun,” she said laughing.
Growing up, Moore was drawn to the arts and drama in school. While her parents really didn’t encourage or discourage the arts, she always gravitated toward it.
“I think I had to do all that because I couldn’t do math,” Moore jokes.
Even though Moore continued her creative side, she went to college later in life at Humboldt University where she majored in speech communication, women’s studies and psychology.
“The whole reason I ended up in New Mexico is because I moved to Santa Fe in 1994 to get my master’s degree in counseling,” she said.
Describing herself as a left-brain “woo woo” thinker rather than a “just-the-facts-ma’am” person,” Moore has always painted, whether it be murals, rocks, furniture or whatever.
“I never used a canvas because it just felt like you needed to know what you were doing,” said Moore, who had never had any formal art training until after she moved to Rio Communities in 2002.
Moore was working as a counselor in the mental health department at Central New Mexico Correctional Facility when she took an art class at UNM-Valencia. It was the first time she painted on canvas.
“It was pretty exciting and, although I was pretty much self-taught, every time someone taught something, I was there,” Moore said.
Now retired from corrections about 10 years ago, Moore has the time to paint daily, although her volunteer work keeps her busy.
Moore’s volunterism began long before retirement as she was a union steward for a time, and she then joined the Moose Lodge in Belen, where she served in one office or another.
“Then I kept joining the art league … thinking I didn’t know how to do art, but it was a draw to me,” she remembers. “Finally, I joined the art league in 2016 for good, and then a year later, I was secretary. I was then president in 2018, 2019 and then 2020.”
Moore has always been a doer, getting involved in everything from being a baton twirler in the marching band to the orchestra, theater and choir. Being involved and in sync with groups and organizations gave her a good feeling — being part of something that creates a sound or performance.
“I love that feeling of community,” she said. “I might just be trying to recreate that feeling of belonging.”
While trying to figure out why she volunteers, Moore realized it’s been natural to help when you live in a place where you get to know everyone. Moore also said her upbringing played a major part in why she is so responsible.
“I think I was instilled in having this over responsible belief in myself as a kid because I was the oldest and had to take care of my brothers and sisters,” she said. “Maybe I thought I was just responsible for the world.”
The Belen Art League was founded 67 years ago by a woman named Mary Lewis, and Moore is honored to be able to carry on the legacy.
“I love the idea we’ve kept this going for so long,” she said. “We have a really strong support group, and the more we grow and do things, the longer we’ll be here.”
Not only does the art gallery provide space for local artists, but it provides art classes to youth and adults, provides scholarships to high school students, supports every festival — public or private — on Becker Avenue, has helped a variety of community mural projects as well as supporting the Belen Arts District initiative.
As Moore continues to champion the local art community, she’s just as passionate about the mission of Books on Becker.
“I’ve just been around books my entire life,” said Moore, who, from 1975 to 1989, operated a branch library on an Indian reservation in Hoopa (now Hupa), Calif., and helped manage another in Arcata. “I guess it was just a natural fit.”
When offered the volunteer position of manager at Books on Becker, Moore decided she could help.
“Here I am, and the book store is great,” she said. “That bookstore is so wonderful — kids go in and get free books; teachers go in and get free resource materials. People come in and they’re happy and joyful. That’s why I do it.”
Clara Garcia is the editor and publisher of the Valencia County News-Bulletin.
She is a native of the city of Belen, beginning her journalism career at the News-Bulletin in 1998 as the crime and courts reporter. During her time at the paper, Clara has won numerous awards for her writing, photography and typography and design both from the National Newspaper Association and the New Mexico Press Association.