Four years ago, aspiring entrepreneurs Sarah Hanna Qarqish and Morgan Berry Welch found themselves refinishing dining tables and fixing broken chair legs in an old coffin factory in south Jackson. On the surface, it was a less than ideal situation. But these Mississippi State alumni said the lessons from this eye-opening experience ultimately set them on the path to starting the design studio of their dreams.
“There were seven craftsmen guild members, and they invited us to move our shop into the factory,” recalled Welch, who graduated in 2013 with a Bachelor of Fine Arts with a concentration in sculpture. “We spent time learning from these men, getting their different perspectives on how to run a business making custom things.”
Qarqish, Welch’s wife and fellow art graduate, added, “These seven incredible craftsmen in their 50s to early 80s were doing this for a living, which was very rare. They were surrounding us, critiquing us, helping us and giving us advice. They gave us a backbone and taught us how to focus on what we truly wanted for our shop. It made us work hard and so appreciative with very little. Because of that, we knew exactly what kinds of jobs we wanted to target.”
Today, Qarqish and Welch are the dynamic duo behind The HannaBerry Workshop. Known for its art, custom furniture and interior design work, the shop, which the couple also calls home, is located about seven miles from downtown Ocean Springs in the city of Gautier.
“We don’t really specialize in any specific thing,” Welch said. “Our business model is to be a generalist shop, so we can take on any type of work. I always tell Sarah, I don’t care what it is that we’re making; as long as we’re making things for people, I’m happy.”
Qarqish added, “Whether someone wants us to redo an entire kitchen, design logos or signage for their business, or build a really special mantel, sculpture, table or doors, we want to be able to serve them.”
In addition to working with residential clients, the couple has crafted custom pieces for the Mississippi Museum of Art, Mississippi Children’s Museum and C Spire, to name a few. Outside of custom creations, they also provide private lessons and host workshops on drawing, painting, mixed media, 3-D design and woodworking.
Left: Qarqish airbrushes a mixed-media piece to build layers of color. Right: Welch using a planer to smooth out a custom-built tabletop.
“One of the great things that makes the business work is that Sarah and I have specialized skill sets,” Welch said. “Sarah has all of these skills she developed as a student in Mississippi State’s graphic design program, and as a senior, I was working almost independently from the sculpture shop at Mississippi State. When we bring our skill sets together, we are able to do things that neither of us could do alone. It’s a really wonderful thing.”
Along with learning from one another, Qarqish and Welch both said they enjoy sharing their knowledge and experience with the clients they serve, as well as their fellow artisans on the coast.
“Some of our clients are really into craftsmanship but there are clients who may have no knowledge of how something goes together, how much time it takes, how much money it costs or how to maintain it, so we take time to educate them about the process,” Qarqish said. “We also make them a little instruction manual they can keep and they can always call us if they need our help.”
Qarqish and Welch also have made a big push to establish a formal community of craftspeople within a 100-mile radius of their shop. Together, they have created Local Creatives, a Web-based directory with contact information, biographies and images of work by local artists of various disciplines.
“In the art world, we trade so much to accomplish some of the pieces that we’re wanting to do,” Qarqish said. “If we don’t have certain equipment, we have friends who do and vice versa. One of the most fun parts of our job is working with this community of people who like to help and critique each other. It’s nice to embrace and use the talents of people who are mastering special skills.”
Together, Welch said he and Qarqish are working to become a young voice for craftsmanship in the state of Mississippi. Providing the public with glimpses of their projects on social media is one of the ways they are accomplishing this goal.
“Nowadays, people tend to just go online and pick out a piece of furniture from a store. We’re able to compete with the prices of comparable furniture, and we want to show people that having something custom made or commissioned is a great option, especially when it comes to quality,” Welch explained. “With the construction methods that we use at HannaBerry, we’re never going to put something out of our shop that isn’t going to last.”
That devotion to quality and customer service feeds HannaBerry’s mission to develop long-lasting relationships with its clients. The best promotion, Qarqish said, comes by way of networking.
“Morgan and I always try to stay fair to our clients and understand them from the very beginning,” Qarqish said. “Clients know when they come to us, we’re going to give them unique, quality work made with quality material. It’s a lot to take on but it’s worth it to put in that extra effort.”
Moving forward, Qarqish and Welch plan to branch into hand-painted murals. With additional equipment, they also are looking to incorporate colors, textures and patterns into glass creations.
“There are all of these different facets to what we do and we’re constantly challenging ourselves, so it’s never boring,” Qarqish said. “It’s hard work but this is life. This is a dream that we’re making come true.”
Welch added, “I can’t tell you how many times one of us wakes up at 5 a.m. with an idea. Our passion for art is all consuming. When we wake up, we walk right into the art studio. If we go through another door, we’re in the woodshop. We’ve set ourselves up, so we can’t escape what we do. For us, that’s the best part of it.”