Maker: Wheeler Munroe
Mediums: Leather, Maple Syrup, Wood, Fabric
Websites: Wheeler Munroe + Waterfall Farm
Shop and Social Media: Etsy | Facebook | Instagram
Articles: NY Times (maple syrup) | WSJ (maple syrup) | Asheville Post
Appearances: Brew Dogs (season 2, episode 1 - maple syrup) | Barnwood Builders (season 1, episode 8 - tool belts) | YouTube Video (maple syrup)
Mastering a skill takes persistence, dedication, and loyalty - It's a game of endurance and constant learning. Mastering many skills is not something most of us even imagine as a possibility. So, when we met Wheeler Munroe, who has proven to be a master of many trades, we were in awe. She is a diamond in the rough and we can't sing her praises loud enough.
At the core, Wheeler is a maker, and says it perfectly in one of her blog posts:
"When I make things, it is with a desire to create things that are worthwhile. Worthwhile for the enjoyment of the passing moment within the making, and worthwhile in that the end result is an object that enhances the daily experience through its use and presence, something that is worth holding onto because it is a pleasure to have and use, and that will not only endure with use, but warm and improve with age."
Wheeler always knew she wanted to be a self-employed craftsperson, so she set course and took action, studying fine art at the UNC School of the Arts, and fine woodworking at the College of the Redwoods and abroad in Sweden at Capella Garden. She pursued apprenticeships and jobs that would provide her with the production skills and the business acumen needed to operate her own business. From maple syrup harvesting, upholstery, woodworking and leather working, Wheeler has thrown herself fully into learning the intricacies and processes of each material she works with, and has emerged victorious. Her work is beautiful, timeless, utilitarian and made with the utmost care and meticulous attention to detail.
Read more about Wheeler below.
Tell us a little bit about yourself and your background.
I’ve always known that I would be a self-employed craftsperson, knowing that the perfect job for me was one where my time is mine, spent pursuing my own ideas and desires. To that end, my teens and twenties were occupied gathering skills and searching for a viable formula for being a successful craftsperson. I studied fine art at the UNC-School of the Arts, and fine woodworking both at the College of the Redwoods and abroad in Sweden at Capella Garden. In the spirit of apprenticeship, I’ve worked for a whole assortment of craft entrepreneurs mining the wisdom of each person’s path. I’ve worked at a fine craft gallery looking to see who bought what, why, and for how much. And in production shops manufacturing high-end cabinets and fine hand tools, sorting through methods of repetition and speed. I’ve worked for fine woodworkers and rustic furniture makers, seeing the way that personality, character and an enchanting story plays into a craft business. I’ve tried out business ideas of my own, growing flowers for market, and taking on custom upholstery work. Through studying all these iterations of craft I’ve hammered out a kind of roadmap or playbook for myself that informs the structure of what I now do. I co-own Wheeler Munroe Leather, a line of finely crafted designs in leather including tool belts and accessories. I am also partnered in Waterfall Farm where we are North Carolina’s largest producer of maple syrup. As these businesses develop, I am working towards building a new workshop within which I can continue with leather work, and also have the time and space to get back to designing and building upholstered studio furniture.
You’ve described yourself as a maker and your work ranges from furniture to upholstery to leather goods and maple syrup. What made you decide to pursue “making” as a career? How did you find yourself working with all these mediums Do you feel a connection between them all?
Part of what drives me to craft is the belief that the objects of our daily lives can be beautiful and authentic, and through their use, beauty and authenticity can become an experience.
I am always seeing the ways in which all my different pursuits as a maker are the same; process, craftsmanship, problem solving, working with tools, visualizing ideas, pursuing goals, the enjoyment of being in motion with total absorption in the moment. As a maker, every pursuit is an opportunity to become more skilled in these areas and when you develop these skills unto themselves, they serve you in any medium.
How do you balance each of these and manage to get so much done?
GRAB IT AND GROWL!!!
For several years I was commuting between my studio in Asheville, and Waterfall Farm which is 2.5 hours away. I kept the road hot between the two places and often felt like my soul was 10 or 15 miles behind me, racing to catch up. I’ve recently relocated my home and studio to the farm and its stripped a lot of the insanity out of keeping so many plates spinning in the air. Also, there is a seasonal aspect to my work. The leather business and maple farming dovetail seasonally with leather’s starting in May when the world warms and people start working on projects that require a handsome tool belt, and it carries through the winter holidays after which everyone is shopped out, meanwhile sugar season is only a full time project during February and March. Still, I’m going full-tilt-boogie most of the time and have to enforce weekends lest they never happen.
What have been the biggest obstacles, or most difficult aspects of being a full time entrepreneur?
Getting Started. When I first started out with a full-time commitment to my entrepreneurial endeavors, I had twice as many work related projects going. In addition to launching Wheeler Munroe Leather and entering in to the world of farming, I was also managing a vacation rental on the farm, doing custom upholstery work, and dragging myself out of near computer illiteracy to build websites and an online presence. I was grabbing every opportunity within my reach and pouring everything I had into all of it. I was broke and working around the clock, but I truly believed in what I was doing and I knew that eventually I would find traction and success. As things things have started to gel, I’ve been able to pare down my projects to those that are most satisfying and lucrative.
What memorable responses have you had to your work?
The backbone designs of Wheeler Munroe Leather are tool belts designed specifically for women who garden and farm. These designs have tailored pockets for pruners, floral snips and knives, and room for a phone or other tools or ties that warrant passage with a lady amongst her crops. I created the first Garden Belt for myself to use in my garden, but now as I send them out to lady flower farmers and florists across the country and around the world I am humbled and thrilled that my work plays a part in the working lives of so many strong, talented and inspiring women.
What is the most valuable lesson(s) you've learned in life or your journey as a maker?
When I was in first grade and learning to write, we were given an assignment to fill some pages with words and drawings about animals at the zoo. I was enjoying myself, drawing a giraffe and the forming my p’s and t’s when I became aware that the girl sitting next to me was way ahead of me. She was flying through her pages, filling them up. I started stressing out and tried to hurry things up, feeling like she might be better than me, or that I was slow and doing something wrong. Soon her pages were full and she called the teacher over to examine her work and lavish her with praise. It turned out that her pages were full of scribbles and gibberish. She filled her papers first, but had made nothing with her efforts. There was a clarity in that moment that has ridden with me ever since. We each are the architects of our own pursuits. There is no race. We each fill the page as we see fit, and get from it what we will.
Where do you go for inspiration or trends? Any go-to blogs, websites, shops, or Instagram feeds, etc?
I keep tabs on @shovingleopardfarm and @3porchfarm on Instagram. Two of my favorite farm ladies who are kicking flower farm butt in the Hudson Valley of New York and the hills of north Georgia, respectively.
What's the best advice you've ever received?
“Whatever you want to do, just keep doing it.”
Showing up and sticking with it goes a helluva long way.
What is your dream project?
My dream project is a lifestyle, and I am already working on that. I live on my family farm with my sweetheart and we spend our days making things in the shop, and working outside on the farm, surrounded by beauty and driven by our own dreams and desires. The big hot item on our list right now is to build a workshop that comfortably houses all of our crafts, both woodworking and seamstering, so that we can continue to expand and explore our scope of making.
Any favorite WNC artists, designers, makers, shops, restaurants, bars, etc. right now? Yes, this is a very broad question!
Johanna Smick of the Monkfish Bindery. I am continually inspired by Jo’s sharply honed skills, total commitment to process, and dedication to exquisite craftsmanship
And, one from left field. If you were a drink, what drink would you be and why?
Coffee. Duh ;)