Featured Maker: Barbie Saylor Kurt of Heritage and Belle

Barbie Saylor Kurt founded heritage & belle in 2015, on the principles of time-honored craftsmanship and beauty, with a belief that small batch is good, handmade is better and a natural element is best. She describes her personal approach to beauty, fashion and decorating as vintage soul with modern style, and this philosophy infuses everything they make and curate at heritage & belle.    

How did you get to where you are today?
By taking the long way – there’s a Dixie Chicks song about that concept, and it totally applies to me. I’ve always had a creative streak, mostly writing, but spent many years in nonprofit work that evolved into PR and eventually a role in a Fortune 500 company. Personal passions simmered on the back burner, until I started learning more about the scented candle industry. I burn candles constantly – and started learning about the potentially harmful chemicals I was releasing into the air in my home. It became a greater and greater concern that would grow to become a passion. One day I was inspired by a beautiful candle my husband gave me as a gift to learn how to make my own. I bought a soy candle starter kit on Amazon, watched some video tutorials and got to work. From soy candles, I branched into bath & body and jewelry lines. I’m still learning, refining my skills and exploring new territory every day – and where I am today is not where I hope to be tomorrow or next week or next year. I was a late-blooming maker, but now that I’ve ignited the spark, I’m compensating for lost time in a big way.    

What's your typical day like?
Truly, there are no typical days, but every one of them starts the same – with feeding my furry brood. My husband and I share our home with five rescue cats, and wet breakfast comes before all other priorities. Most days end the same as well – reading in bed surrounded by the scent of curing candles. And then, somewhere in between is the making, marketing and working on the business.

Where is your studio?
My home is just one big multi-media studio. My office is very non-traditional, filled with shelves of oils, candle jars and finished goods, as well as books and art that inspire me. I’m usually making product in the kitchen, melting wax or mixing up sugar scrubs. And, my husband is a singer-songwriter with his own music studio in our basement. 

Why do you feel art/handmade is important/relevant today?
Maker culture is undergoing a major resurgence. Everything from candles to beer is better when it’s small-batch and handmade. The quality, craftsmanship and baked-in passion are unrivaled in handmade, and each piece is unique. It’s personal - to the maker and the buyer, and I think we all crave a connection to the goods we purchase and consume. People love to hear and share good stories, and you just know that when something is handmade, it has a great story.

What artists/makers influence your work - who are your creative idols?
I’m a huge fan of Mike Weber, a mixed media artist out of L.A. Much of his work features the natural world in some way, and the themes he brings to life resonate deeply with me. Kate Hewko, a jewelry maker/designer based in Calgary, does beautiful work with raw stones. Her rings are a favorite accessory of mine. I’m also incredibly inspired by people who convey a real sense of place in their work, like James Beard Award-winning chef Sean Brock, or those who create something so beautiful and timeless in its simplicity, like the designers behind Fount leather goods. I’ve even been inspired by my husband’s music – my American Man candle is an homage to his latest single. The creative spectrum is wonderfully broad, and I find bits of inspiration and awe in so many disparate places. 

What has been the most difficult challenge for you as an artist/maker? Is there anything you'd like the public to know about your work upon purchasing it? What is the most gratifying part of making your work?
For me, the specific challenges change daily. Some days it’s time, others it’s the temperament of natural elements, and still others it’s imposter syndrome. But, the most difficult part is reining in all the different directions I’d like to go. I love experimenting with fragrance, and I could blend hundreds of different scents if left to my own devices. I’d love for people to understand the thought and care of planning and execution that go into each and every item I make. If someone recognizes and appreciates the craftsmanship, passion, authenticity and purity in heritage & belle, I’ve done my job. The most gratifying part is hearing feedback from someone who has fallen in love with a particular candle, piece of jewelry or bath & body product. I had a teacher recently order one of my dreamcatcher necklaces to give to her student aide as a graduation gift. She said that they shared something akin to a mother-daughter relationship, and I was so incredibly touched that this thoughtful person chose heritage & belle to convey her feelings of gratitude and affection for this young woman at such a momentous time in her life. 

Where do you find inspiration?
Nature is my biggest source of inspiration. My latest candle line was inspired by frequent visits to Shenandoah National Park. My entire line of jewelry is nature-inspired, and my bath & body products contain all-natural ingredients and essential oils. I’m also drawn to staples of Americana – barn wood, apothecary and mason jars and oxidized metals. The name heritage & belle came from the juxtaposition of old school tradition and natural elements with modern stylistic touches.  

What's your studio playlist?
It depends on what I’m making at the time. I’m a big believer in the concept of the environment infusing its mood into whatever I’m making, whether it’s candles or jewelry or food, so I choose music to help ‘flavor’ my creations. My husband is a country singer-songwriter, and I’m drawn to a certain kind of Nashville sound and music that tells a story. Here’s a playlist on fairly frequent rotation:
  1. “Angel Eyes” by Love and Theft
  2. “My Church” by Maren Morris
  3. “Tennessee Mojo” by The Cadillac Three 
  4. “Dixie” by Ashley Monroe
  5. “Where the Devil Don’t Stay” by Drive-By Truckers
  6. “Mexico” by Carrie Underwood
  7. “Outlaw State of Mind” by Chris Stapleton
  8. “Carolina” by Eric Church
  9. “Railroads” by Holly Williams
  10. “American Man” by Scott Kurt
  11. “Front Porch Thing” by Little Big Town
  12. “Texas In 1880” by Radney Foster
  13. “Good Ol’ Boys Club” by Kacey Musgraves
  14. “Right Where I Need To Be” by Gary Allan
  15. “Heart Like Mine” by Miranda Lambert
  16. “Middle of America” by Will Hoge

How do you get yourself out of a creative rut?
I go outside and walk to my neighborhood park; put on some music and dance around the living room; flip through a magazine or coffee table book; rearrange some furniture or organize something; pour a glass of wine and cook something delicious. If we can get away, I’ll plan a fun weekend trip to the country for my husband and me. We discovered Old Town Winchester’s lovely pedestrian mall and Tin Top during one of those getaway weekends.

Favorite blog/movie/tv show/book that never fails to inspire or just clears the mind.
Cheryl Strayed’s Wild has inspired me in so many ways, from pushing my limits in nature (kayaking through white water) to the feather pendant in my jewelry collection. I’m also a borderline hoarder when it comes to coffee table books on modern rustic design – my current obsession is the recently published At Home in the American Barn.  When it comes to television, I’m all about shows from my childhood, like Wonder Woman and The Facts of Life, or primetime dramas like Nashville (hoping it gets picked up by another network), The Walking Dead and Shonda Rhimes’ oeuvre. My all-time favorite movie is Bell, Book and Candle with Kim Novak and Jimmy Stewart. I always wanted to be Gillian Holroyd, the eccentric, beguiling, bohemian gallery owner/witch. I love that film, except for the ending.  

Share a recipe - bonus points if there's a story behind it.
Cooking is a hobby my husband and I have in common, and we’re always experimenting with new recipes. Since summer is just around the corner, I’ll share my signature warm weather pasta recipe – Sunflower Cilantro Pesto Penne. I developed the recipe because I have a nut allergy and can’t eat traditional pesto, and this dish is a great showcase for one of my favorite fresh herbs.

1 16-ounce package penne, or other dry pasta (my favorites are DeCecco and the fun shapes of Sfoglini)
1 ‘bunch’ fresh cilantro, about 1½ cups
5 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon champagne vinegar
⅓ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese, plus extra for garnish
½ cup olive oil
½ cup sunflower seed kernels
1 teaspoon kosher sea salt
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
¼ teaspoon freshly ground red pepper flakes

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. I like to use my 7¼ qt. Le Creuset Dutch oven for cooking pasta. Add pasta, and return water to a boil. Cook pasta for 8 to 10 minutes, or until al dente; drain well and return to pot. Keep covered.
In a food processor, add cilantro, garlic, vinegar, Parmesan cheese, pepper, seeds, lemon juice and salt. Pour in ¼ cup of the olive oil, and blend the pesto. Slowly drizzle in more olive oil until the pesto reaches your desired consistency.
Transfer pesto into a saucepan and warm over low heat, stirring constantly, until pesto begins to simmer. Pour over cooked pasta, and mix well.
Garnish with remaining Parmesan cheese. Serve with a dry white wine. For an extra touch of whimsy, decorate table with a bright and cheerful sunflower bouquet.

What's your dream project - if you had all the time and materials in the world?
My new candle line was inspired by Shenandoah National Park, a much loved weekend getaway destination. I created four scents representing different facets of the park and its unique annual events – Blackberry Cobbler, Blue Ridge Bouquet, Mountain Lodge and Spiced Apple Butter. My dream project would be to visit all 59 United States National Parks and create a signature candle line for each one.    

Describe yourself in 5 words.
imaginative, driven, compassionate, curious, wild

Describe your work in 5 words.
inspired, pure, luxurious, soothing, distinctive

Tell us something funny that happened recently.
I live with five cats – something funny is happening constantly. For example, our youngest kitten, Dolly, has made friends with one of our backyard squirrels. They meet up at our side door just about every morning after Dolly eats breakfast and play their version of pat-a-cake through the glass. It’s adorable and hilarious at the same time.

How do you find balance?

I don’t. No seriously, I don’t strive for the elusive state of balance that many people use to define their work-life equilibrium. Instead, I find harmony. I’m not weighing one thing against another, rather allowing all the notes of life to blend together and honor the natural ebbs and flows along the way. My work is a part of my life, it’s not something separate – and it’s simultaneous much of the time. So, if candles are curing while I’m making dinner, or the sauce is simmering while I’m labeling jars, it’s all good. The kitties get fed first, and the rest just works out – but some days are longer than others.

To see more work by Heritage and Belle please visit: www.heritageandbelle.com

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