To make and to create
Pottery shards and translucent glass like porcelain can survive thousands of years allowing us to learn about ancient cultures in a colorful way. Even though pottery is practical and serves a purpose, it is also a form of art in its shape, color, and decoration. Jewelry, like pottery has a timeless quality to it that survives season after season and pieces from trendy to expensive can be passed on from one generation to the next.
“If you don’t have the label you feel like you can’t do the thing, but doing the thing is how you get the label.”
Rachel Warkentin and Lindsay Jordan Kretchun of Barrow PDX create wearable art by combining hand dyed fiber and clay to form unique pieces of jewelry. The two have an appreciation for material and invest in researching every material that is used for their craft. Fiber and glazes allow them to experiment with color and texture. “This is something that propels us forward especially with our interest in material. If one person is interested in a certain material or technique the other will say go for it. I’ll do the other stuff. You are not constantly being pulled away from the actual work and you can take turns doing that and going off and exploring and bringing all that research back and share that with the other,” Lindsay shared.
Before Barrow, Rachel and Lindsay were not potters, nor were they jewelers. Yes they were creative and artistic, but they were not businesswomen. “Labels are really restrictive that way. If you don’t have the label you feel like you can’t do the thing, but doing the thing is how you get the label,” Rachel shares. Ten years of friendship, countless beers, and a shared love of cheesy horror movies led the two to move past labels and find the medium that lead to Barrow’s creation.
A love story and how Barrow began
Lindsay and Rachel met in college at Oregon State University where they were both beginning their art studies. The friendship, however, began after a trip to Paris that was booked before “we really go to know each other.” The two aspiring painters stayed close friends through school, moving to California to earn MFA degrees at two separate colleges and later returning to Oregon. “We were both working jobs we didn’t love and we were not sure what we were going to do with our lives. We were spending most of our time sulking and drinking beer together. Then we were like instead of sulking and drinking beer let’s play with clay and drink beer or sulk and play with clay,” Rachel explains.
“We were spending most of our time sulking and drinking beer together. Then we were like instead of sulking and drinking beer let’s play with clay and drink beer or sulk and play with clay.”
The two friends played with clay and had “clay dates” that gave them another creative outlet to explore. “We did and still do have our painting practice and we had experience with ceramics and three-dimensional sculptural stuff but never had pursued it seriously. So it was kind of perfect. It is such a collaborative medium so we were able to learn together,” Lindsay added.
Playing with clay was a way for the two painters to explore another creative medium but the intention at the time wasn’t to start their own business. Engaged to be married, Lindsay had an idea to use their newfound medium and Rachel’s kiln addition to make little ceramic salt dishes as wedding favors. In fact she thought it would be Rachel’s wedding present. Rachel was agreeable to the idea, but 30 salt dishes later told Lindsay she would need her help if the remaining 120 dishes were to be completed on time. “That was like the original Barrow project,” Lindsay stated.
“We thought there is no reason why we can’t do this. We are restricting ourselves by saying we are not jewelers. We are not business people or whatever.”
The response to the dishes was encouraging, and Lindsay shared, “Everyone loved it and we were like we are making things anyway why not do something with this?” For a brief moment, the Barrow creators thought about creating the small dishes for others, and they laugh as the recall that they also simultaneously thought “let’s never do that again.” Their friends and family were supportive of the jewelry pieces they made and encouraged them to pursue that path. The two friends explored different objects and materials and crafted jewelry that some of their friends purchased. “In a way I feel Barrow pulled us out of a funk,” Rachel said. Lindsay added, “We thought there is no reason why we can’t do this. We are restricting ourselves by saying we are not jewelers. We are not business people or whatever.”
And thus, Barrow began in 2013. The business started out slowly and organically. Lindsay and Rachel wanted to keep things small and worked out of their homes to avoid borrowing money. The two played every part from the product photographer to web designer to keep overhead low. “With a small business you are expected to do everything. We wanted to feel free to experiment and not feel like if it didn’t work out it was a huge disaster,” Rachel said.
Play and inspiration
Today, Barrow is located in it’s own industrial studio in North Portland. The studio is airy with the glazed creations displayed against a muted pink background. The two creators exchange looks and laughs as they tell the story of where they came up with the name for their line of crafts. Barrow was on a list of names and Lindsay found a connection to clay. It wasn’t until they were at home watching 30 Days of Night, a movie set in Barrow, Alaska, that the name was decided on. Lindsay jokes, “We watch a lot of bad horror movies and watching that movie we were like ok that seals it!”
Similar to the name Barrow, there is playfulness in how they approach the design process. Pulling out a pair of slim gold wire earrings with a creamy porcelain round mounted at the end, Rachel explained the inspiration behind the earring. “These are the ‘Atom Cocktail Earrings.’ The earrings were inspired by a woman we saw with a cocktail sword tucked in her ear. We looked at it and thought, ‘wow, that would kind of actually make a great earring.’ We played with that idea until we created these.”
Lindsay nodded in agreement, “You get this idea, you don’t know where it comes from but you keep thinking about it. It is like this with our painting and it is like that with the jewelry. It could be a color, a shape, a feeling, or even the time of year.”
Friends and partners
The two friends and business partners take care of each other and support one another, “I couldn’t imagine not having that access to say ‘can you please take this over’ and vice versa, it just relieves so much” Lindsay said. Rachel and Lindsay both value their partnership and friendship. They are able to lean on one another and when one is feeling insecure or down, the other is able to be the supportive cheerleader. Since they trust one another, they take to heart what the other has to say. “You need somebody to say it’s fine, you need a cheerleader. It doesn’t have to be a business partner. But you need someone you trust to encourage you,” Lindsay said.
The business and the design process is collaborative, because the two learned the medium together, each and every design is a total shared effort with just a few of the designs being one of their creations from start to finish. “It is a shared identity. I think when some people collaborate they start with an individual identity within that medium. Neither of us did, or had any pottery or hand dying identity. Collaborating on something we didn’t know about made it easier,” Rachel said. The two do have independent responsibilities, with Lindsay owning more of the dying technique and Rachel taking care of the kiln.
“You need somebody to say it’s fine, you need a cheerleader. It doesn’t have to be a business partner. But you need someone you trust to encourage you.”
During our time with the Barrow creators, Rachel made Lindsay tea and Lindsay had Rachel (and us) laughing. “That first year Barrow felt like a hobby. It was like we just sold a necklace. Split two ways let’s go get…well beer, everything comes back to beer,” Lindsay reflects.
Remembering, the two creators exchange many knowing smiles and “oh yeahs.” Rachel recalls what is was like in the beginning and shares, “For the first year we didn’t think of it as a business as much. It was more of a project we were working on together. Then eventually it felt like a business when one of the stores we were working with wanted to make a check out to the business. And we were like oh we don’t have a business account. She was like get your shit together.”
Now they continue to teach each other, host an intern, and keep plans for the future open. Barrow is not exclusive to jewelry and will continue to be whatever the two friends and artists dream up.
Finding your medium
Rachel and Lindsay also had this advice to share, “When you are first starting it will seem like everything will go wrong and it is a really big deal. Hey, if you make something and it is bad, don’t worry about it. If you make something and somebody returns it, don’t take it personally. Whatever it is that seems like this giant insurmountable thing, you won’t be thinking about it two years later.”
Rachel and Lindsay’s experience has given them the perspective that when you feel stuck you should go outside of yourself and try something different. For the makers, that meant trying a different medium but that same idea can apply to creatives, teachers, business owners, and writers…to all of us of seek to live extraordinarily ordinary lives.
Check out BARROW PDX here!
Written by Andrea/Photos by Angelina & Andrea