Morgan Gift Shop offered treasures

By Regina Villiers.  Originally published June 10, 1992 in The Suburban Life, added June 16, 2018.

The Morgan house on Miami Avenue, about 1926-27. Brownie’s father, Albert Grover, stands in the yard. His mother, Minnie, is sitting in the lawn swing to the left. The little girl standing in the door is his sister.


For a quarter of a century, a tiny gift shop owned by Durward (Brownie) and Helen Morgan reigned as a peaceful haven for shoppers in Madeira.

The shop occupied a small building tucked in behind the Morgan’s home on Miami Avenue.  Their house sat next to the house, which now contains the Earthen Vessel.  Though the Earthen Vessel still stands, the Morgan’s house and gift shop disappeared years ago under the concrete of the building and parking lot of Cottage Savings.

“Helen sometimes wonders what goes on in the spot where she used to cook and wash dishes,” Brownie said, “for it all disappeared as if we never existed.”

But they did exist.  And they still do exist in the hearts and memories of Madeira residents.  Tucked away in many Madeira home is many a treasured item, which came from the Morgan Gift Shop.

Louise Kemp treasures a couple of beautiful pieces pottery given to her by her sister-in-law.  My own Morgan treasure is an exquisitely carved music box, which plays “Look to the Rainbow.” I bought it for myself with money received from my grandmother.

The gifts from the Morgan’s’ place were a cut above the wares of ordinary gift shops.  Most were one-of-a-kind artistic items carefully selected and bought by the Morgans from artists themselves.

Even more remembered that the gift from the shop is the shop itself and its atmosphere.  It was a small, cozy place with a fireplace, which always burned with a real fire in the winter.  The hospitality of the Morgans glowed even warmer than the fireplace.  I often found myself thinking of something I could go look for just to have an excuse to visit them.

Brownie Morgan moved to Madeira with his family from Oakley in 1921.  His parents, Albert Grover and Minnie Harrison Morgan, bought a house on Laurel Avenue.  In 1924, they moved to the Miami Avenue house, which later became the home of Brownie and Helen.

Brownie remembers Madeira at that time as a small, rural community.  With nostalgia and clarity, he recalls growing up in that era with his boyhood friends, the Watsons.

The gift shop started in 1950.  Even then, life in Madeira still flowed at a quiet, leisurely pace.

Brownie, a naturalist/artist/writer/historian, lives life with much the same philosophy as did Daniel Boone, who, legend says, thought it was time to move on when he could “see the smoke from another man’s cabin.”

By 1975, Brownie could not only see another man’s smoke, but another man’s automobile.  Brownie, who dabbles I poetry, wrote a poem wherein he wondered if anyone can live in a house by the side of the road and still be a friend to man.

He wrote:  “There was plenty of fear and frustration that we might be caught off guard, brought down by a throwaway bottle, while tidying up the yard.”

So the Morgans sold their house and shop and bought three and a half acres in rural Brown County, Ohio.  There they build their home, sitting on a peaceful hillside, with a woods in back and a scenic pond in front.

In August 1975, they moved to their Shangri-La, five miles from the nearest grocery.  Since then, they have lived a life approaching perfection.

That perfection is not so readily apparent to others.  Brownie delights in telling about a visitor who asked, “but what do you do all day?”  Brownie ponders that question as he tells the story.

Watching them, it’s easy to see what they do all day.  They live.  They enjoy life.  Helen says they were friends before they married.  They still are friends.  They enjoy and support each other’s endeavors and artistic projects.

Brownie was a metal smith who made copper fireplace hoods and other artistic items for the home.  He also draws and does cartooning.  Each year, he draws their Christmas cards, each one individually, a work of art.

These days he also writes, much of it historical and his memoirs.  But occasionally his sense of humor takes him on flights of fancy into poetry.

After the moved to their hideaway he penned:  “When the water in the cistern’s low, we can only choose one path:  we can either water flowers, or waste it on a bath.”

Helen is an artist with a needle.  Her beautiful needle paintings, her original designs, hang throughout their home.   She calls it “doodling with a needle and thread.”  I call it rare talent.

She uses no patterns or pre-sketches.  It all comes from within.  Most of her paintings have designs from nature, but some take on universal themes like her picture of faces of children of the world.

Their main interest these days is growing wild flowers in their woods.  They spent happy hours there accompanied by their cat, K.C. (for Krazy Cat).

They recall with affection their life in Madeira and the people who still remember them, but they have no desire to return there.

In their remote, idyllic setting they are living the life all artist/writers wish we could live.  They jealously guard their privacy and hope they never again live with the noise of man’s automobile except for that of their rural mailman who waves to them once a day.

Brownie and Helen Morgan stand in back of their home near Winchester, Ohio.