Miranda Britton’s commute takes her down her driveway, past the chicken coop, the sugar shack, and her massive vegetable garden (“My joy and the bane of my existence in the summer — there’s so much weeding!”), to the renovated horse barn that houses her studio. There, she uses traditional hand-fabrication tools and techniques to craft tiny works of art: earrings, necklaces, pendants, and bracelets made from precious metals, found objects, and natural materials — like horsehair, carefully harvested from one of the two horses (“They’re more like family pets”) that occupy the stable’s remaining stalls.
The Stable Studio, as it’s known, is nestled in the woods of Windermere Ontario, just outside Muskoka. Miranda shares the space — which includes a gallery — with her husband, Scott Turnbull, a photographer. It’s where she grew up, literally: when she and Scott married in 2004, her parents gave them a piece of their land. They built a house, and then a barn for Miranda’s horses.
As the two pursued their artistic careers — and especially after their son, Bishop, now 9, was born — they quickly recognized that they would need a dedicated studio space. “I work with hot things, and sharp things, and sometimes toxic things, none of which are conducive to babies and small children,” explains Miranda. They finished the renovations around the time Miranda discovered she was pregnant again. “That kind of changed my plans for how the next couple of years were going to play out,” she says, laughing.
Their daughter, Mercy (“as in, ‘Lord have,’” quips Miranda) is now six. With both kids now in school full-time, she’s been able to devote herself more fully to jewelry making and all the tasks necessary to maintain a successful business – from photographing her pieces to keeping her website up to date. “I’m doing what I can all the time,” she says, of juggling work and family (and garden) responsibilities with Scott — he’s often away on summer weekends, shooting weddings, while she spends two weeks each year in Toronto selling her works at the One of a Kind show.
“When I’m in Toronto, I love it. I stay with friends. I eat out all of the time. I go to great concerts. And then I love coming back to the quiet. I need the emptiness — that’s where my ideas come from.”
You can see her surroundings in Miranda’s work, in the cuffs and pendants featuring silhouetted spruce and crabapple trees, a robin pendant, necklaces and earrings twisted and bent like twigs. “I’ve always gravitated toward organic forms and my work — plant structures, organic shapes and lines.” One pair of earrings is inspired by the full moon. “My daughter is super-obsessed with the planets and the solar system. She’s always looking up at the night sky, and it’s great to live somewhere where she can actually see it. When we go to Toronto, she’ll notice that she can’t see the stars.”
Miranda’s work strikes a chord with many of her urban clients. Women in their 40s to 60s in particular, she’s noticed, seem to gravitate towards nature-inspired pieces. “They find them grounding. Especially for people who don’t have easy access to nature, they find that wearing jewelry inspired by it brings them some peace.”
She hopes that her kids — growing up surrounded by forest — attain the same kind of groundedness. “They have the space to be creative, to learn how to problem-solve, and find ways to entertain themselves.”
Bishop and Mercy help out as well as play, taking an ever-larger role in planting, weeding, and harvesting the huge family vegetable garden, which feeds them throughout the summer and into the fall. “My mother always had a huge garden, and as kids, my brothers and I complained bitterly about weeding and planting. But I’m so grateful now to have the knowledge of how to do it.”
Miranda thinks her kids are learning similar lessons from growing their own food: “If we’re going to go to the trouble of prep, and planting and weeding the garden, then we need to see it through until the end, when we harvest and process and store the harvest. The kids are invested: they want to see their hard work rewarded. They’re learning about responsibility, about following through, looking after the creatures and the forest.”
The forest, the garden, the lake on her property: Miranda turns to these places when life gets overwhelming. Being a jeweller, she explains, can often mean being inundated with messages about, ‘What’s cool?’ or ‘What’s trendy now?’ “I’ll be on my phone, scrolling through Instagram. I follow a lot of artists and jewelry makers, and they do great work, but I can get into a space where I start comparing myself to them, wondering if my work is fashionable, if it’s good enough. And then I’m not paying attention to my kids or my surroundings, feeling like I’m doing all my jobs badly.”
The solution? “Getting off my device, going outside, working in the garden. I’ll take a hike – on my own, or with my family. That gets you out of that comparison mindset. And that’s where I get inspiration.”
SUSAN GOLDBERG is a regular contributor to the Whole Family Happiness Project, where she is thrilled to eco-geek out on composting, reducing plastics, and other low-carbon life hacks. Her writing has appeared in the New York Times, Ms., Toronto Life, Lilith, Today’s Parent, Full Grown People, and Stealing Time magazines, and several anthologies, including Chasing Rainbows: Exploring Gender-Fluid Parenting Practices. She is a regular contributor to several websites, including CBC Parents, and co-editor of the award-winning anthology And Baby Makes More: Known Donors, Queer Parents, and Our Unexpected Families. Susan is based in Thunder Bay, Ontario, where she can often be seen picking up cans to recycle on her neighbourhood walks.
The Whole Family Happiness Project is a group of moms exploring our connection to our individual purpose, our family happiness, and the happiness of the world around us. Join us on Facebook.