A Little Bit of Magic
by Rachel Perry
photo by Cindy Steele
Michael and Jennifer Burt strive to live in harmony through their creative occupations and their appreciation for fellow artists. Evidenced by flourishing production and sales of their stained glass panels, “portable home accents” and sterling silver jewelry, as well as their active promotion of the Brown County Craft Gallery, their philosophy is proving to be self-affirming.
“I don’t think being an artist is just about creating things for people to buy,” Jennifer declared. “Being an artist is more than that. It’s about supporting your art but also supporting other people’s art….Today we’re so out of touch. We buy our food at the grocery store and our gifts at Hallmark. We don’t know who makes anything.
“If you want your art to be supported, then you in turn should support other artists,” she continued. “It’s a whole way of living your life. We have such a passion for this way of life, and really believe in it.”
The road to their current way of life has been convoluted, yet decisive, for the Burts. Raised in Michigan, near Ann Arbor, Jennifer and Michael attended the same elementary school but did not get together until they were in their early twenties. When they coincidentally met as adults, Jennifer was making a good living as a cosmetologist in an upscale hair salon, and Michael also was thriving as a tennis instructor at a country club. Both had attended several years of college but had opted for their lucrative careers prior to graduation.
“Jennifer and I were making good money, we were in love, and we got married. We didn’t feel like we needed to finish college,” Michael said.
But after a few years in the “fast lane,” material wealth started losing its appeal. Jennifer described their life-changing decision. “Where we lived (in Michigan) it was really a fast pace. We were both working a lot and making good money. We thought, ‘This is not what we want life to be about—waking up and going to work and getting a nice car and a nice house.’ We decided we wanted to go to a place that was a little more relaxed.”
“The prerequisites were that our new home had to be warmer than Detroit, it had to be less populated, prettier, close to a college town, and not too close to a nuclear power plant,” Michael laughed. The Burts convinced Jennifer’s parents, sister, and aunt to also consider moving to a new community, and set out to find their ideal location.
Michael and Jennifer sold their condo, furniture and belongings in 1996 and purchased a truck with a camper/trailer. They traveled the entire United States for about a year, camping in state parks. After visiting every state in the ‘lower 48’ they settled on the Ashville area of North Carolina.
“Our whole family came to North Caroline to check it out,” Jennifer remembered. “But our hotel got robbed while we were there, and we thought it was a bad omen.” Then Jennifer’s parents, Marilynn and Steve Yochum, drove through Brown County on their way back to Michigan. The foggy evening required them to stop at the Story Inn, where they picked up a magazine titled Branches. Intrigued by the area, they called the magazine number and talked to Carol Bridges, who referred them to the owners of Nashville’s “The Eucalyptus Tree” furniture and gift shop, Rita and Kent MacPherson.
Impressed by Brown County’s natural beauty and the MacPhersons’ enthusiasm, Marilynn and Steve purchased eighty acres off Green Valley Road less than a year later. The extended family all relocated to the existing log cabin until the Yochums built a new home on the property, and Michael and Jennifer bought a house on Somerset Lake Road.
In the meantime, the Burts had become involved in the seasonal art fair circuit, selling Jennifer and her sister, Erika’s, hand-painted children’s furniture and wax batik cotton clothing. Although the Burts continue to participate in approximately twenty art fairs each year, their focus has evolved into selling their stained glass creations, bud vases, ceiling fan pulls, fused glass pieces and hand crafted jewelry, among other items.
A converted screened-in garage serves as their studio, where they collaborate on most of their designs. Jennifer noted, “We’ve never really had patterns or anything and we work well together. We just let the creative process take over.” Their two-year-old son, Aiden, makes sure his parents don’t overwork.
“The Brown County Craft Gallery has really been a blessing for us,” Michael commented. “We thought we wanted our own store, but realistically, it would suck the life out of us. So the Craft Gallery is great. We’re involved but not overly involved. And it ties into the whole thing of supporting other artists.”
The reasons for the Burt’s selling success are likely as diverse as the variety of products they create. “I think our stuff sells because it’s reasonably priced. A lot of our things glitter. There’s a little bit of magic into it and people can’t resist that,” Jennifer laughed.
Creations by Michael and Jennifer Burt can be purchased from the Brown County Craft Gallery next to the courthouse on East Main Street in Nashville. You can also call them at 812-988-0975 for an appointment, or e-mail <email@example.com>.