I Create Birmingham: Morgan Johnston

“Birmingham is on the precipice of something really great and it’s only going to sustain and grow if we each support these things, encourage these things and share these thing”

Morgan Johnston
Occupation: Artist & Stylist

1. You’re an artist, small business owner, stylist, and yoga instructor. How do you find balance in all your endeavors?

Finding balance is a daily endeavor! It’s really important that I stay focused in honoring my family’s priorities, so that helps guide me big time. It makes it very clear when deciding to say yes or no, in moving forward or staying still. My husband Duquette and I regularly check in on each of our goals. I actually sit down and write out what I want to see happen in each area of my life, and I work towards that. We do that together, and support each other in that. I’m so grateful for him. I am very attuned to where I am mentally/physically and spiritually, so if I start to feel imbalanced because of work or exhaustion, I pause, breathe and redirect. My yoga practice, a very clean diet, and regular chiropractic care are a huge part of what gives me the awareness to do what I do in life. I’m just going to say it loud and proud– you’e got to practice Self Care. Boom. Revolutionary.

And I also wake up between 4 and 5 am nearly every day. I have my coffee, sometimes practice yoga or meditation, often paint in my studio, sometimes just read. I need the silence and space. It makes me a better wife and mother, for sure. I can struggle with working too hard or having unrealistic expectations of myself, and this solo time allows me to devote myself single mindedly to whatever I need to do in that moment.

2. You and your husband, Duquette, just opened up a retail store. What inspired you to open a store? Why Woodlawn?

Duquette and I have talked about opening a mom and pop shop for a decade. That conversation really began when people started hitting us up for recommendations over the years – where to get that perfect pair of denim, the best t-shirt, clean and effective skincare, the perfect travel bag, etc. From traveling and connecting with people all over the country via art and music, we’ve been really fortunate to make some great relationships with people making really amazing things that aren’t represented in Alabama.

Club Duquette is where you can find your clothing, supplies and good vibes. As we say, everything you find in the shop is “for long wear and easy living.”

Ultimately, our work in this world is about connecting with people in a real, personal way. We believe that all people really want is to connect, to feel love. So the shop is a place where our door is open for anyone to come in and get some good vibes. Each item in the shop is something that Duquette and I really believe in, love and use in our real lives. We believe in fair manufacturing practices and can tell you exactly where something is coming from and how it’s made. And we strongly believe that good style should be accessible to anyone.

We opened up our shop in Woodlawn because it’s our community. We have lived in East Lake for almost a decade and Duquette has made music down in Woodlawn with Communicating Vessels for nearly as long. We believe in where we live, and community is really important to us. We have this graphic tee that says “Woodlawn High 1916” and we give 50% of those shirt sales to music education in the Woodlawn community. So it’s home to us, but it’s also a place we could afford to take the risk. It can be expensive and risky to do what we are doing. We are doing it our way, with our vision, close to home and in a way that makes sense for our family.

We actually share our space on 55th Place South with Great Bear Wax Co., an incredible candle manufacturer and dear friend of ours. So you can come down to the shop and see Jake and his team pouring the candles that most people know and love. And you can definitely pick them up in our shop!

3. What challenges do you find small business owners facing?

We are stoked to be a part of this new wave of small businesses opening in Birmingham. We don’t have a business background so we have been trying to tap into the resources in Birmingham that exist to offer support, REV and Create Birmingham among them. We work to build relationships with other small business owners so we can spread the love for each other. We are all doing something different. There’s no reason to not spread the word about other amazing places in town and what’s going on. Birmingham is on the precipice of something really great and it’s only going to sustain and grow if we each support these things, encourage these things and share these things.

Come check out Club Duquette and the other cool spots in Woodlawn, grab something at Woodlawn Cycle Cafe, hit Winslet & Rhys and check out the MAKE Bhm space and Sheperd’s Pet Supply in Avondale. Check out Sneakers Inc. and Seasick Records in Crestwood. Go downtown and experience Charm, What’s on 2nd, Reed Books, Jeans Glory, Alchemy 213. And that’s just a little five-mile radius. There’s so much more happening.

4. You personally focus a lot on mental and spiritual well-being. Do you find that this comes out in your art?

Physical, mental and spiritual health are a major priority in my life and in our family. I had our son in 2014 and contracted a life threatening bacterial infection that left me critically ill for about 18 months. We invested everything in getting me well again. To get my body working, my organs working again, to restore healthy nervous system and brain function, to heal me physically and spiritually after a really intense trauma. When I was at my sickest, I returned to painting as a means of therapy for myself. To steady a brush, to focus on the way the pigment bled with water into the fibers of paper, it quieted the things happening in me that caused pain and fear. This began a really prolific time of painting for me.

My healing journey is a beautiful and long process, so to keep it brief– I eventually shifted from ill to WELL. And with that major (and totally amazing) shift came a radical shift in the art I make. My husband built a studio for me in our home that is my sacred space. I practice yoga there. I read there. I sit in silence there. I create there. The light is just a flood through most of the day and I can just CREATE. I really believe that every word we speak, every action we make has an energetic vibration. So when I paint, each gesture transfers that vibration and energy into the work, literally into the paper or canvas or cloth. A completed piece contains the thought, the emotion, the vibration with which it was created, and then that all goes on into the hands of the patron who acquires a piece.

It’s moving meditation. It’s a practice of loving kindness and gratitude. It’s both practice and discipline. One of my favorite phrases is “all the things.” It’s all the things.

5. With you as an artist and Duquette being a musician, you have a very creative family. How do you encourage this creativity in your son?

I never really think about it that way, but yeah, I guess we are a creative family. We just do what we do and work hard at making it a working reality in our lives. Our son Tennessee Wolf is almost 3 and he gets to be a part of it all. We want him to see that with hard work, determination, resilience and centered being, you can make things happen. We invite him to participate in all the things we do. He began painting with me in my studio when he could barely stand up, and he definitely has a natural inclination towards guitar like his daddy. While we don’t push anything on him, we just want to make sure the opportunities to create, build, imagine, learn are at his fingertips, whether it’s in something arts-centered or not. But I will say that seeing my 3 year old son rock out with a real guitar next to his daddy, that makes me smile so big it hurts.