Laura Nolan began her artistic journey as a young girl gathering scraps from her father’s automotive shop in Pennsylvania. She welded together nuts and bolts and turned discarded car parts into sculptures, and today she continues to make art, only now Oregon’s forests and breweries are her muse.
Branch+Barrel Designs, based in Bend, celebrates wood by continuing its life in the form of art. Nolan creates jewelry from barrels once used at breweries, wineries and distilleries, and from wood she finds on the ground — shaping branches and staves into earrings and necklaces each as original as the timber they came from.
The inspiration for the business came from Nolan’s travels as she discovered items left by nature and wove them into new creations.
“I was collecting objects to make things from wherever we went, and I realized that is where I found my happiness and was most at peace,” said Nolan. “Branch+Barrel stems from that and the concept of using your surroundings, wherever you are, and making art with it.”
Nolan began using barrels in her jewelry after her husband, Toby Nolan, witnessed the destruction of one at a local brewery. He saw the grain and the char in the staves, and immediately suggested the material to his wife.
Branch+Barrel procures bourbon and wine vessels at the end of their working lives. After separating the staves, the wood is dried for about six months, and then Nolan sketches designs that best showcase the wood’s history in its grain. It takes about two to three days to shape the wood into jewelry.
“This is what is so interesting and poetic for us,” Nolan said, “it is the life behind the barrel, and dissecting it to see its history.”
Anyone who drinks anything aged in a barrel appreciates the length and process of its coming into being. Barrel-aged beers are the artist’s own personal favorite brew, and she is sometimes found sipping one as she designs her jewelry.
The husband-and-wife team of Branch+Barrel (Laura is the artist and Toby does sales and marketing) love sharing stories of where the wood came from and how it’s sometimes made in natural settings thanks to a mobile work station. Currently sold in six states, they may add a men’s line. Custom work is also available for businesses and customers who have a particular connection or memory with a certain stave, and would like it made into a unique piece of jewelry.
“No two barrels are the same,” said Toby. “The char is always slightly different, the grain is always slightly different and it is a challenge because we can’t replicate the same thing.”
With the purchase of every authentic creation, a tree is planted through the nonprofit Trees for the Future — lending itself to a story that begins with a seed and ends with art. •