Rich in history with creativity built upon thrift and tradition, Alabama is replete with phenomenal makers. Artisans working in the mediums of clay, paper, leather, marble, and wood are today’s caretakers of our collective sense of place. The makers featured on the following pages are just a few of the individuals dedicated to translating their artistry into something useful, cherished, joy-inspiring, and very giftable this season. Their dedication to craft makes our state a better place to call home.
Magic City Woodworks
The apprenticeship model is the foundation for all work done at Magic City Woodworks, located on the north end of Birmingham. Step into the shop and you will be greeted with a hearty welcome that immediately sets the tone for the goods you are about to experience. Using wood as the medium, artisans craft everything from coasters and grazing boards to planters and ping-pong tables. Small teams of cohorts come together in six-month stints to learn more than how to plane a two-by-four. They learn that work is good, hard work is rewarding, completing a task and working as a team has meaning, and greeting one another with eye contact matters. As founder and CEO Lawrence Sheffield says, “Work is an opportunity. Work is an equalizer. Work is a training ground for our hearts.” In short, come for the goods, leave with something far more enduring than a gift.
“We want to be the Chick-fil-A of woodworking. What we mean when we say that is our product is our people. Their development is our greatest investment.”Blake Wilson, Magic city woodworks CO
What to buy
Goods from Magic City Woodworks can be found in the most fantastic places, such as local corporate boardrooms, residential man caves, and even the new Protective Life Stadium. No matter what vision you have for a particular piece, you can see it come to life here.
Birmingham residents who’ve had the pleasure of dining at famed Hot & Hot Fish Club in the Pepper Place Market district or at SpringHouse Restaurant at Lake Martin are well versed in the appeal of Tena Payne’s Earthborn Pottery. Yet these are not the only chefs who handpicked her wares as the backdrop to their award-winning culinary fare. You might be surprised to learn that you can find Tena’s plates, bowls and serving pieces at more than 250 restaurants and clubs worldwide, all produced in-house at her Leeds, Alabama, facility. “The best thing we have going for us is our relationships with chefs,” she says. “Our crafts are alike in that we both use ingredients that come from the ground. My art frames their art.” The adage often imitated but never duplicated is one that most certainly applies to Tena’s goods. Her custom glazing process is what ensures the longevity and durability of every piece that bears her name. After all, the prettiest plates in the world won’t get used if they chip or crack with regular use.
“The best thing we have going for us is our relationships with chefs. Our crafts are alike in that we both use ingredients that come from the ground. My art frames their art.”Tena Payne
What to buy
Locally, you can find Earthborn Pottery products at Alabama Goods in Homewood (their bespoke line features pine cones and camellia blooms), The Cook Store in Mountain Brook Village, and Bromberg’s, which has its own botanical line. A popular hostess gift is one of Tena’s smaller bowls paired with a box of locally made cheese straws or homemade rosemary-scented cashews. While newlyweds always appreciate plates and bowls to finish out a registry, it’s the platters and serving pieces that are usually the most coveted items.
Brooks Barrow works in the medium of limestone, granite, and marble, especially Alabama white marble from quarries in nearby Sylacauga. In his studio outside Montgomery, Brooks chisels, shapes, and forms each piece to best show the natural beauty of the material. “Finding material that shifts decisively is difficult,” he says. “Most stone is melancholy and an indecisive earth tone. If it goes gray, it never quite goes gray enough. It goes through an awkward stage and never grays fully. And if it is white, it has so many impurities that it has its own issues.”
In Brooks’s hands, North Alabama limestone is coaxed into shallow serving platters that feel at once grounded and substantial yet light. The color and shape of each piece effortlessly showcase the contents it holds (even when it might be nothing at all) much in the same way a supporting actor makes the leading lady look so good. The vessels Brooks crafts from Alabama white marble are breathtaking in the simplicity of their shape, allowing the natural hues—pinks, faint forest greens, whispers of blue, and yes, pure white—to glow from within. And the variations of color lend an ethereal airiness, counterbalanced only by the sheer heft of the stone.
“The work is all subtractive. That is why it is helpful to work subconsciously and not overthink it.”Brooks Barrow
What to buy
Unlike home goods and apparel items which are produced in large quantities, each Brooks Barrow creation is unique. No two pieces of stone are the same, and no two days of working with the stone are the same. Even the sharpness of the carving implements will vary from one piece to the next. In short, when you see an item that you love on Brooks’s Etsy page, buy it. There will never be another. He accepts custom orders as well.
Brooks Barrow – etsy.com/shop/brooksbarrow
Drawn to function, aesthetics, and quality, as well as enduring and timeless appeal, Radcliff Menge was inspired to create his own hunting jacket when others on the market failed to meet his exacting standards. A self-professed recovering corporate attorney with deep affections for Southern culture and a love of the outdoors, Radcliff created the Tom Beckbe brand in 2015 around his signature Tensaw jacket. A derivation of the Choctaw Indian pronunciation of the famed Tombigbee River (Ratcliff spent his youth hunting the river’s shores with his grandfather), Tom Beckbe represents a sector of the outdoor apparel market that had heretofore been untapped—goods best described as American, Southern, elegant, functional, and genteel-but-not-afraid-to-get-your-hands-dirty.
“Our apparel looks just as great around town as it performs in the field.”Radcliff Menge, Tom Beckbe founder
What to buy
You need not be an avid outdoors person to appreciate Tom Beckbe goods. The brand’s utility bags, shirts, hats, whiskey totes, and log carriers are universally loved. The leather chef’s knife roll, a collaboration with James Beard Award-winning chef Chris Hastings, lets even home cooks feel more than a little wicked-cool. For a major wow, we suggest the Overland Chest (top photo), handmade in Heber Springs, Arkansas, by the legendary craftsmen of Julian & Sons. Made from American black walnut, it showcases leather-lined drawers and copper tray pulls.
Passionate about good design and an aesthetic that does more to define their brand than defy traditional labels, Brett Forsyth and Brandon Watkins have created something really special at Yellowhammer Creative. The duo came together in 2009 with a side hustle creating show posters and T-shirts for bands they admired. In 2013, a collaboration with REV Birmingham afforded them pop-up shop space on 3rd Avenue North, which increased their exposure and helped launch their company. Today their style has been translated beyond mere ink and paper—they also do graphic design, branding, wayfinding systems, interior design, and more. “We are a full-service creative agency,” Brandon says. “Clients often tell us they want something to look like Yellowhammer, which really has come to mean timeless—not necessarily vintage but rather classic.” Brett adds, “We really draw on nostalgia. That is what inspires us.”
“We have developed a certain aesthetic. Our wheelhouse is kind of this place—something you may have seen before or felt like was always there.”Brandon Watkins
What to buy
The Yellowhammer shop at Pepper Place is teeming with fan favorites of the brand such as the “It’s Nice to Have You in Birmingham” logo they created, which can be found on everything from T-shirts and tea towels to magnets and stickers. Beyond that, the store shows a lot of pride for not only The University of Alabama and Auburn University but also local educational powerhouse UAB.
It all started with a belt Virden Hargrove wanted made. He sketched out a design, and in true get-it-done fashion, his wife, Elle, made it happen. They knew immediately that others would also want these Southern-inspired designs, needlepointed onto all kinds of daily items. As a result, Asher Riley was born.
Mississippi natives, Elle and Virden named the company after their son and their beloved dog. In addition to running the lifestyle brand, Elle is a hygienist, having learned the trade in the military while stationed in Florida. Upon completion of her active duty and reserve days, the couple was finally able to pick where they wanted to start their lives together and create a forever home. Elle explains that The Magic City was an easy choice. “We love the size and the feel here,” she says. Putting down roots here all those years ago paved the way for the Asher Riley brand to really take hold as their designs feature cotton bolls, retrievers, mallards, and state flags. In addition, the couple’s love of the coast finds its way into patterns with mermaids, nautical flags, and bonefish emblems. “There’s almost no limit to what we can create,” says Elle.
“Legacy. This is where we choose to live out our dreams and create the life we want to pass along.”
Virden Hargrove, when asked what Birmingham means to the Asher Riley brand
What to buy
Coozies for your squad. A leash befitting your princely hound. Coasters for your lake house. Cardholders and wallets for your nephews. Or give a gift certificate and let the recipient pick a one-of-a-kind favorite. Christopher Collection in Homewood (2913 Linden Avenue) stocks a wide array of ready-to-gift Asher Riley goods.
Red Land Cotton
The soil of Moulton, Alabama, plays a rich role in the agricultural and textile history of Alabama. Anna Yeager Brakefield just wants to make sure the rest of the world knows about it. After graduating from Auburn, she moved to New York City to pursue a career in advertising, working on brand accounts like BMW and American Express. When she married her college sweetheart who’d completed his pharmacy degree, the pair moved to Nashville. Anna admits it was hard to find her niche in Music City. “My dad definitely capitalized on that and asked me to just try this (running Red Land Cotton) with him,” she says. While branding and storytelling came easily for this third-generation member of a cotton-growing clan, Anna also dove headfirst into learning the e-commerce side of the business. Her dad recalls a time when you could watch a bale of cotton go into a machine in Sylacauga and practically watch it come out as a pair of jeans on the other side. That type of vertical integration is almost impossible to find in the textile industry, but the Yeager family works to keep their chain as tight as possible. Cotton grown by her dad and two brothers on the 5,000 acres in Moulton can be ginned on site before heading to Virginia to be spun, to South Carolina to be woven, and then back to Moulton (or Tylertown, Mississippi) for the cut-and-sew process. All finished goods eventually land at the new distribution center and storefront in Moulton where they are inspected for quality and packaged for the prettiest presentation, something customers and gift recipients love.
So what makes sheets from Red Land Cotton different from something you’ll find at a big-box store? It’s the process: The Yeagers reverse-engineered a sheet from the 1920’s to produce what feels like something your grandmother may have line-dried and ironed a lifetime ago—sheets that start with a snap and just get softer with age and use.
“More than a bedsheet, more than a quilt, you’re purchasing American values and helping employ Americans. You’re helping keep the textile industry here alive.”Anna Yeager Brakefield
What to buy
Anna says that their quilts and blankets will be the biggest sellers this season. Towels are also hugely popular; they completely sold out on Black Friday last year. The Red Land Cotton “Go Anywhere Dress” is the perfect beach coverup or bridesmaid gift, while the “Ticking Stripe Apron” will be your hostess-gift staple.
Birmingham is filled with talented craftspeople. Here are a few more of our favorite makers to add to your gift and personal wish list:
Bauble Stockings – baublestockings.com
Needlepoint stockings handmade by artists in Haiti along with belts and DIY kits.
Bonnybee Designs – Bonnybeedesigns.com
Macrame wall hangings, keychains, jewelry, and place mats.
Canvas – carriepittman.com
Abstract paintings and hand-painted bags and fabrics by Carrie Pittman Hill. CANVAS also sells other local goods including Favor Candles and Too Pillows.
Civil Stoneware Inc. – civilstoneware.com
Tableware and accessories in modern, matte finishes.
Flint Leather Company – flintleatherco.com
Leather bags, wallets, and accessories.
Freedom Soap Company – freedomsoaps.com
Small batch, all-natural soap and skin-care products.
Merry by Julie Terrell – merry.julieterrell.com
Custom holiday stockings made of fine velvet, linen, and vintage fabrics.
Shop Handmade & Local
Alabama Goods – alabamagoods.com
Alabama-made goods including candles, clothing, pottery, and more.
A’Mano – amanogifts.com
Handcrafted items that support artisans and producers in developing countries. Offers home décor, jewelry, candles, cards, and more.
Find even more local makers here!