Morgen Barrett is a local girl who graduated from Tigard High. A jeweler and mother of two, Portland is her home and she plans to keep it that way. "It's crazy how artistic Portland is," she said. "I guess I live in the right town. I grew up here, I cannot ever imagine leaving. My mother would not allow it, first of all." Morgen's in-laws are also Portlanders, and all the grandparents dote on her two active, adorable, and always hungry little boys.
Since her own childhood, Morgen was the family artist. "My mother always says, 'Gosh, you're so artistic, I have no idea where it came from, not from me or your father.'" Although she loved outdoors activities like biking and jumping in leaves, Morgen was always drawn to jewelry and theater.
At college in Ashland, Morgen started out in drama, switched to communications, and hosted a series of radio shows throughout. She also started making beaded jewelry for herself. Then she started giving jewelry as gifts to friends. "After college, my girlfriend taught me how to wire wrap one day and I just fell in love with it," she said. The young women showed their work at a holiday party and sale. "I invited friends and family. They loved our stuff and started buying it." And thus, Morgen went pro. She was also inspired by spending time in Bali and seeing the many artisans there working in art, wood, jewelry and painting.
A course at the Multnomah Arts Center further rocked her jewelry-making life. "Metalsmithing opened a whole new world to me," she said. Her favorite technique was hammering, so her classmates took to calling her Hammer Girl. "They sang 'It's Hammer Time' when I walked up to bench," she remembered. She still loves to hammer her work. "I have all the hammers you can imagine," she said. "Let me tell you, that's a great way to relieve the stress."
Kids and Work
After Morgen got married and had her first baby, she had to solve the dilemma so many mothers face, the work/child balance. "I wanted to be a stay-at-home mom, but have my artistic path, too," she said. Making jewelry was something she could do in her home studio while still being there for her children. And while motherhood is central to her life, it's important to her that her boys see other facets of her, too. Her kids are interested in her business. "When I come home from showing my work, they say, 'Did people buy your jewelry? Did you make money?'" she said. Her older son helps her with the hammering.
Refining Her Craft
In a city full of jewelers, Morgen has found her niche incorporating gemstones into her silver work. She enjoys reading about stones' traditional meanings. Her favorite is labradorite, a grayish stone with a rainbow-casting quality called "labradoressence." "It's my biggest seller," Morgen said, "my go-to stone." Morgen also likes amethyst, which is both her favorite color – purple—and her birthstone. Much of her work combines stones with circular metal shapes.
Completing a piece takes many steps. Morgen starts with a plain sheet of silver and – by sawing, sanding and shaping – turns it into something unique and desirable. Her dremel is her best friend. Morgen is especially proud of making her own earwires, something most jewelry makers buy pre-made. "I felt like I really wanted to make the entire piece," she said. "I wanted to come up with an earwire that will stay in your ear. I used to have problems with earrings falling out. But I've never lost one with my earwires."
Chris, Morgen's husband, makes all of her displays from beautiful dark wood that contrasts nicely with the silver and gemstones. Morgen appreciates all the thought and work Chris has put into helping show her jewelry to its best advantage, and describes him as "a wonderful, supportive husband."
See Morgen's Jewelry
Several Portland boutiques feature Morgen's jewelry. "Switch Shoes in Multnomah Village is probably my biggest store," she said. "I've been working with them since they opened." She also sells work at Flora, a store downtown, at Suite Six and Amenity Shoes, in Northeast Portland, and at a soap store in Joseph, Oregon called Beecrowbee, where her jewelry is a hit with summer tourists. Her Etsy store is taking off slowly. When choosing between building her online presence and spending time with her kids, the boys always win out. "I'm trying to build a foundation now so when they're in school, I'll go to it," she said. "I don't want to be too busy where I can't be there for them right now. Morgen especially enjoys participating in the UAN Street Gallery. She loves the people watching, and the camaraderie of the artists. "To me, that's my girl's night out," she said.
Morgen is passionate about creativity, and encourages aspiring artists to never give up. "There will be times when you're at a sale and you may only sell one thing. You think, is it worth it? Yeah, it's worth it. You're doing something with your own two hands. You're sharing that artistic ability with everyone else."
—by Teresa Bergen