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Making the Mark

By Meagan Russell
In Center Block
Sep 1st, 2021

This year, BayouLife Magazine asked the community of talented makers to submit their hand-crafted goods for our inaugural Making the Mark competition. In the following pages, you will meet this year’s winners in each category: Craft, Apothecary, Outdoor, Home, Fashion, Food and Drink. Thank you for all the wonderful submissions.

Profiles by Meredith McKinnie | Photography by Kelly Moore Clark

Meet the Maker:
Chris McElroy


Raised in Start, Louisiana, Chris McElroy is drawn to historical crafts such as silversmithing, blacksmithing, and leatherworking. The desire to preserve older crafts and work with his hands comes from within. Chris describes leatherworking as a “combination of art and function. The work is often created with a focus on function, but through creative avenues, the product becomes a work of art.” He began working with leather nine years ago and has fashioned western-style holsters, knife sheaths, spur straps, pistol holsters, belts, and rifle slings – primarily as gifts. For those interested in leatherworking, Chris encourages newcomers to trust the process. “Don’t let your mistakes discourage you.” The personal touches that distinguish leather products are often achieved through trial and error. The practice of leatherworking is becoming more popular as online communities grow and local communities take interest. 

As a college student, Chris needed a bag for his laptop and books. Bags can be expensive and are often not well made. The larger bag he created is more structured and formal in style, but practical for school. Combining his passion with his immediate need is the impulse of a maker. 

Chris is a graduate of LA Tech in Animal Science and is currently pursuing a second degree in Cyber Engineering. He and his wife Sarah have two children, Lilly and Luke. 

Meet the Maker:
Mike Benton


Mike Benton grew up in a family full of duck hunters. He’s well versed in the flyaway duck zones and an expert on the cutdown duck call, a regional phenomenon in north Louisiana and south Arkansas. The cutdown style is popular for hunting in river backwater, lakes, bayous, and brakes- particularly for its loudness. In 1997, Mike started Challenger Cutdown Calls with a few business partners. Now the sole owner, Mike created the logo for the calls, that features three different birds. The specklebelly goose adorns the top of the design; the pintail, with its penguin-like coloring, nestles up under the goose; and the mallard, the prize duck, sits under the pintail. The stair- stepped fowl design is popular among avid hunters. 

Duck hunting appeals to sportsmen for different reasons. Some love the thrill of the kill, others like to retrieve the ducks after the kill, but Mike adores calling the birds. Summoning the ducks to the water is the pinnacle of hunting wildfowl. Turning his passion into a career seemed like an obvious choice. Now the market calls for prettier designs, and Mike is branching out with materials. His 3-inch barrels are now made of acrylic or cocobolo wood instead of the original plastic. Mike sells duck calls on Facebook and Instagram. The elaborate creations can also be found at Dave’s Bayou Lodge in Richland Parish and Max Porter Provisions in West Monroe (upon opening). 

Meet the Maker:
Rachel Madden


As a mother of four children, Rachel Madden uses her artistic flair as means of escape and relaxation. Raised in West Monroe, Rachel married her husband Zach Madden 8 years ago. She teaches Pre-K 3 at First Methodist Church in Monroe. When Covid quarantine began and the family was all home full-time, Rachel knew she needed something to do outside of domestic responsibilities. She settled on earrings. Rachel saw a clay pair on Pinterest and thought, “I can make those.” What started as a passion evolved into a side hustle that brings her joy and supplements income. Rachel was always drawn to creative projects. She paints, knits, crochets, needlepoints, and has even built her own tables. She grew up watching her mother bake and decorate cakes, and now as a mother herself, she knows the value of having a creative outlet. 

Ironically, Rachel had never attempted making jewelry before and admits she doesn’t even wear earrings often. Now with the earrings’ lighter clay material, Rachel has a practical, easy-to-wear alternative. This unforeseen hobby is the escape Rachel so desperately needed. With Everett, Hollis, Crawford, and Lenora under the age of six, Rachel has been pregnant, breastfeeding, or both for the last five years. Motherhood can be consuming, and Rachel didn’t want to lose herself in the process. She finds time to paint with the kids, and during those quiet moments, she slips away to create her jewelry. Rachel realizes she won’t ever be alone for quite some time, but finding time for herself is essential. 

Meet the Maker:
Margaret Evans


A resident of Winnsboro, Margaret Evans works as an accountant at the local Delta campus. While her career involves structure, Margaret finds her escape in creative expression. Using her artistic talent gives her pleasure, as the practice is not beholden to deadlines. Creativity blooms in free spaces. The handmade basket idea emerged while perusing online. Margaret frequently finds inspiration from unique, fresh designs. Margaret’s basket creation is a natural, modern style featuring a leather accent and grommets. Margaret plans to keep toying with the design, hopefully creating more decorative pieces in the future. 

Margaret’s mother taught her to sew when she was a child. Inspired by the allure of creating, Margaret taught herself to knit, crochet, and quilt. She enjoys the challenge of making something from scratch, putting her own twist on existing styles. If she needs a new comforter, clothes, or curtains, she takes on the challenge. Now a mother and grandmother, Margaret seeks out her favorite hobbies for relaxation and connection. Her grandchildren have taken an interest in expressing themselves through crafts, as well. Margaret worked with the girls on a lap quilt, a sundress, and even the beloved basket. She appreciates sharing her love of artistic expression with her family. 

Meet the Maker:
Hailei Beckwith


A junior at Neville High School, Hailei Beckwith is one well-rounded 16-year-old young lady. The honor roll student adores math. She appreciates structure and definitive solutions to problems. Hailei serves as historian for the Cinderella Guidance Clinic and is a member of Top Teens of America. At Neville, she is a member of The Clean Team, The Renaissance, and Student Council. Hailei’s father and grandfather own and operate funeral homes in Louisiana and Texas, and her mother is a registered nurse that enjoys event planning. Hailei wanted her own creative outlet and a way to impact the world. She found a passion for making candles at 13, and along with her team of volunteer family members, LoveLit Candles was born. 

Hailei is allergic to beeswax, so her candle creations are made with soy and coconut wax. She believes in the alternative ingredients because it is better for the environment. The #1 scent is Georgia On My Mind, which features hints of peach. The pineapple scent, A Graceful Host is a nod to the soldiers who would put a pineapple on the porch after returning from combat. The symbol meant the soldiers were open to talking about their experience, so the candle is meant to be a sign of welcome. Hailei’s mother Shonya Gipson-Paige is proud of her daughter and her giving soul. Hailei donates portions of her candle proceeds to local organizations such as the NELA Food Bank, the Breast Cancer Foundation, and families in need during the holidays. Giving back and making a difference are most important for Hailei Beckwith. 

Meet the Maker:
Kay Walker


Cooking and entertaining bring joy to Kay Walker’s life. Raised here in north Louisiana, Kay’s childhood memories were made in the kitchen, and she has strived to create those same memories with her children and grandchildren. Through entertaining, she found her recipes brought joy to other people. After a divorce at 60, Kay decided to use her God-given talent in a business venture. Kaybaby’s Smokin’ Fine Foods evolved in Kay’s own little kitchen. It took grit, determination, and a lot of faith to get the business off the ground. Through the diligence of friends and family, the market evolved as well. The company’s featured products are Bloody Mary Mix, smoked oyster crackers, and smoked rice. The Bloody Mary Mix is always a favorite at parties. The flavor is spicy, but lighter with a smoky twist. Kay takes pride in making a product that her local friends love and shares it with a wider audience. 

As a north Louisiana native, Kay takes pride in her hometown and wants to see the area get more recognition. As a result, Kaybaby’s products are bottled and distributed right here. As the current First Lady of Ruston, Kay and her husband Mayor Ronny Walker are committed to the growth of this region. Kay focuses her efforts on helping female-owned small businesses gain recognition. Kay sees God’s hand in all the changes and blessings in her life. She knows mindset and commitment lead to fruition, and if she can make people smile with her products, then she is combining her two loves in life. 

Meet the Maker:
Melinda Adams


After working in the medical field for the last 32 years, Melinda Adams has taken a well-timed step back. She’s now free to focus on creating in the kitchen, her artistic space. Coming from a family of artists, Melinda admits she can’t draw, but she can blend flavors. Raised by her grandmother, Melinda wanted to emulate her culinary talents. When her own kids were younger, Melinda focused on baking cakes and cupcakes for birthday parties and special occasions. She got back in the habit when her grandchildren were born, and then concocted her famous peach pepper jelly. The current batch features royal red peaches from Mitcham Farms. 

In 2013, Melinda’s friend produced a bumper crop of peppers and offered Melinda a five gallon bucket full. She had an idea to add fruit into the pepper jelly. She started with pineapple and it was a hit at an open house party. The cranberry flavor had the same positive reception. Melinda now offers 5 more flavors: peach, strawberry, blackberry, raspberry, and blueberry. And don’t assume the pepper jelly is just suitable as an addition to cream cheese. Melinda suggests adding the raspberry jelly to ham, the cranberry jelly to chicken, the peach jelly on pork roast, or even making a peanut butter and pepper jelly sandwich. Melinda enjoys thinking outside the box with food and encourages her customers to do the same. 

Find Melinda’s jellies through her company, Meme’s Kitchen.

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