Ex-Pats: Rob Rumsey
“As quaint as Elmira was, it wasn’t a safe place for me to prosper,” says Robert Rumsey, former Southern Tier resident turned makeup artist whose work has graced the covers of Rolling Stone, Vanity Fair and many other fashion and entertainment magazines that he was enamored with as a young, gay kid growing up in the 1970s and 80s western NY region.
“Because I was a young, gay creative, there was no future there for me,” he says.
Rumsey attended Ernie Davis Middle School, participated in Long-distance running at Elmira Free Academy and expressed his creativity through art, photography, and theater growing up in westside Elmira.
“Opportunities for self-expression were limited.”
Rumsey, who remembers being bullied as a youth and made painfully aware by some classmates that he didn’t fit in, moved first to Corning at age 19, then to Ithaca, before taking a big leap and heading west to San Francisco in 1991.
“I wanted to have actual experiences, not just read about them.”
After working retail and food service gigs, Rumsey decided to get serious and pursue his artistic interests professionally. He has spent the past 30 years steadily building a career as a makeup artist, starting at department store makeup counters and rising to work with some of America’s hottest entertainers, including Carly Rae Jepson, Tate McRae, Finneas, Gracie Abrams and many others.
He traveled the globe with Miley Cyrus’ 2014 Bangerz world tour, worked an array of entertainment awards shows, in addition to donating his time and talents to many charitable events and causes in the Los Angeles LGBTQIA++ community, where he currently lives.
“The best way to break down barriers is to interact with people different from you,” Rumsey explains. “I need to be informed by experience.”
Most recently, Rumsey accomplished one of his lifelong dreams and received some well-deserved recognition working with one of the most enigmatic popular musicians in recent history, Billie Eilish, on her latest obsessively discussed British Vogue cover, which features a new look. Rumsey was even interviewed about his technique in the magazine
he revered as a young gay man coming into his own, when he first left the Southern Tier and moved to Ithaca.
After three decades of working in the entertainment industry, Rumsey marvels at the diverse inclusive environments in which he now finds himself collaborating with the young progressive artists currently pushing the boundaries of popular culture, music and fashion. He’s worked hard, building a reputation for easygoing flawless artistry and has established a loyal clientele.
As Rumsey hustled to build a successful career in a competitive trade, he’d occasionally return to the Southern Tier to visit with family and friends, and like many ex-pats, frequent popular local businesses and restaurants.
In 2017, Rumsey returned to the Southern Tier to help care for his ailing father. In addition to spending quality time with his father and family, Rumsey was reminded of some of the simple charms of small-town life. He was able to help prepare his father’s garden for spring planting, mowed the lawn, and reveled at the lack of rush hour traffic. He also cherished the kindness, as well as the emotional and financial support of local friends who helped him pay his L.A. rent and bills so he could spend time with his father towards the end of his life. It was during this special time that Rumsey was able to reconnect with childhood allies who’ve grown into a diverse network of women in the Southern Tier who support and nurture each other, area youth and the community, generally. Friends who teach, own businesses and support their families and community, standing up for the most vulnerable and providing a positive example of acceptance and inclusion. Rumsey mentioned women like Katie Boland, Shelley Green, Kim Eveland, Robyn Anderson, Michelle Augustine, Kellie Traugott-Knoll, and several others, whom he says are crucial members of the Southern Tier, carrying on the tradition of supporting those who may be “different.”
“Every generation, if they're lucky, has those integral community members with open minds and hearts, willing to stand up for others,” Rumsey says.
It’s these supportive friends, along with his older sister Candace and some key adults, like the high school art teacher who encouraged him to audition for a role in the 1995 movie “The Street Corner Kids: The Sequel,” filmed in Elmira, that Rumsey appreciates most about growing up in the Southern Tier.
“Being a creative young queer kid who was frequently chased off the bus, these women lifted me up,” he says. “They made Elmira a safe space for me and encouraged my talents.”
Rumsey’s grateful for his connections to the Southern Tier and many of the memories he has of his hometown region.
“I think you’re only stuck someplace if you’re not fulfilling your destiny.”