ARTIST INTERVIEW: Hall Newbegin of Juniper Ridge
Juniper Ridge formulates Wilderness Perfume by distilling and extracting fragrance from wildflowers, plants, bark, moss, mushrooms, and tree trimmings that they harvest on the trail. All of their products are named for the wild places they come from. Their company is built on the idea that nothing smells better than the forest, and that the only way to bring this beauty home is to first strap on your boots and go there. All of their ingredients are sustainably harvested from native plants, and crafted using old perfume making techniques including distillation, tincturing, infusion and enfleurage.
Juniper Ridge has been purveying their intoxicating scents at the holiday fair for several years. We spoke to founder Hall Newbegin about his journey and creative process.
Describe the path that led you to the work you do now. Did you take any big risks to get where you are?
I grew up in Portland, Oregon surrounded by nature. It was a pretty magical way to spend childhood, but by the time I was in my late teens, I had grown tired of all that ubiquitous boring Northwest type stuff. So, I got out and went to New York for college and immersed myself in that other type of wilderness. By graduation, I’d had enough of the city. I couldn’t wait to get back to the West Coast and spend time outdoors — hiking, backpacking, learning about native and medicinal plants. I didn’t think it’d turn into a career, I just knew it felt good and I realized my favorite thing to do out there was using my nose.
I got lucky that my interests align with something people crave, to interact with nature. It took me a while to get things going. It’s not easy using centuries-old perfuming techniques. No one does it that way anymore, but I was determined. It was my way of staying true to nature, but it was the biggest risk I could possibly take. I harvested and formulated bars of soap that smelled like Big Sur and sold them at Berkeley and San Francisco farmers markets. Starting a wilderness perfume business in the 90s when everything was going techy was pretty risky.
Did you have any mentors or important creative influences?
In terms of business mentors, I studied with hippie herbalist Howie Brounstein in Eugene, Oregon in my younger days. Howie is something of a legend among our circle, having spent decades immersed in and writing about the world of sustainable harvesting. He’s widely regarded as the foremost expert on harvesting the wild plants of the West.
Creatively, Neil Young and Lou Reed come to mind immediately. They were the first people to whisper in my ear and tell me to go out there and do the weird thing. When I was 13 or 14 years old, I listened to “Walk on the Wild Side” over and over again. Lou Reed was singing about street hustlers, transgender folks, junkies and a world so much bigger than anything I ever knew growing up in suburban Portland. It freaked me out, but I figured, when you’re frightened by something, it usually means you should be checking it out. Around that time, I started going off script of what my family and the world expected of me. Being a freak in this big, gorgeous, crazy world has lead me down this path.
What do you do, or where do you go to seek fresh ideas or renewed creative energy?
When I’m out hiking, smelling the plants and wet soil, it’s like a religion to me. I don’t do it for spectacle, or because it’s good for our brand. I do it because it helps me find my center, calm my mind, and go deep into the quiet depths of myself. Simply put, it turns me on and engages my primitive mind – it makes me feel good. Engaging my senses out in nature puts me deep in my primal instincts; it calms my racy mind, puts me in my body, and reignites my creative energy. Being outdoors is therapy, religion, and inspiration all in one.
What do you hope to share with those who purchase your art and bring it intimately into their lives?
I’m motivated by turning people on to nature. The most rewarding thing to me is watching people tap into their animal senses. I love leading groups of people through these places that have meant so much to me. Together, we explore; we’re quiet, breathing, smelling. I do what I do because I love sharing the experience of that instant, intimate connection to our ancient selves. I want to share the incredible gift being out in nature gives to me: peace, calm, clarity, presence. If they can’t make it out on the trail with me, I’ll bring the outdoors to them. That’s my purpose.