Mackenzie Becker, covered in shimmering gold dust, saws into a sheet of brass, quickly forming the outline of a cicada.
The metalsmith and jewelry maker has always been fascinated by nature: As a kid growing up in Illinois, she wanted to become a paleontologist and study dinosaurs.
Becker was creative from a young age. She always had a pencil and paper in hand and would draw everything — even her favorite cartoon characters as she watched them on TV.
After moving to Kansas City in 2012 to study art and psychology at Rockhurst University, Becker decided to pursue nursing, in part because most of her family was involved in healthcare.
After graduating, Becker got a job as a wellness coordinator, but “I wasn’t finding much joy in my job and I wasn’t making a lot of art anymore,” she says.
She decided to quit her full-time job. The night before her last day, “I made a pair of big statement earrings out of pink pleather fabric,” Becker says. “I loved that I was able to make something so simple, whimsical, and wearable to enjoy the next day.”
“I have always been inspired by feminism, insects, plants, whimsy, and nostalgia,” Becker says. “I began with wire-wrapping and taught myself how to use new tools and materials.”
A few friends liked the earrings Becker posted to Instagram and asked if they could purchase them. Those early fans offered Becker support and reassurance that what she was making was beautiful. She continued making jewelry throughout the fall of 2017 and did her first pop-up at Birdies Panties & Swim. The Crossroads Arts District boutique then started carrying her line.
Feeling inspired, Becker applied to her first handmade fair, Strawberry Swing’s Holiday Swing, that December. It was a success, and Becker realized that jewelry making was something she could pursue to feed her passions for creating and activism.
“I was feeling fiery about our political climate and the injustice surrounding reproductive rights,” she says. “Having painful periods for years, especially that particular year, I felt it even more than ever with my constant monthly reminder.”
“At the time, I was working mostly with brass wire and embroidery floss and had an idea for a uterus earring. Yes, you heard me right — a uterus earring. I wanted to be a part of the conversation and also wanted to find a way to connect with my community.”
Her uterus-shaped stud earrings are hand-cut from brass and sold for $44 on Etsy. Becker donates 20 percent of proceeds to Homeless Period Project, a nonprofit that provides menstrual products to those in need and seeks to end the stigma around menstruation.
“I thought, ‘This is perfect, I’ll donate a portion of my proceeds of my uterus earrings to the Kansas City chapter,’” Becker says. There was only one problem: there was no Kansas City chapter.
“So, I made a phone appointment with the co-founder of Homeless Period Project and we spoke for over two hours about our lives and how she thought I was fit to take on this project,” Becker says. “At only 23, I decided to take this big leap and officially started the Kansas City Chapter of Homeless Period Project in October of 2017.”
After that, Becker decided to expand her jewelry making skill set. Traditionally trained in painting and drawing, she wanted to find a way to incorporate her skills to jewelry and came across metalsmithing.
“In March of 2018, I bought my first bench pin (a notched piece of wood that attaches to a work bench and helps with sawing) and began to teach myself how to saw brass and turned my tiny drawings into earrings and necklaces,” she says. “This is where the true core of MackBecks still is today, with 98 percent of my work being hand-cut out of brass.”
Becker has created all kinds of designs ranging from tiny female bodies to flowering succulent plants in pots to North American Cecropia Moths — all using a four-inch coping saw and her original drawings.
When asked what she appreciates most about Kansas City’s Maker Movement, Becker says, “I absolutely adore the community surrounding handmade objects. It is so supportive and the opportunity to create something while maintaining autonomy in your own life as a young person is very attainable. I have quickly met and been supported by so many people who have helped me and MackBecks get to the place it is today! The Maker Movement provides a platform for all people to connect and collaborate with each other in person and even on Instagram.”
Her advice to up-and-coming Makers is to only make and do things that are genuine to you.
“I believe that if your skills are genuine to you, you have the greatest opportunity to allow it to manifest naturally in your life,” Becker says.
You can find MackBecks locally at Donna’s Dress Shop and Midcoast Modern. You can also find her at Strawberry Swing’s 9th Annual Summer Swing at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art on Sunday, August 11, where she’ll be sharing a booth and releasing a new collaborative collection with Plant KC.