Crafty artisans recycle castoffs into chic art

Last week, you read about sneak thieves who swiped the executive director’s credit cards – learn why we went back to Trillium Artists to check out their store …

Trillium Artisan April Alden shows one of her Rosewebs wallets made from recycled and reclaimed lawn furniture webbing. She’s also modeling a Liv & Lotus scarf, Stubborn necklace, and bracelet from Eye Pop Art.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
It started as a “sewing circle” project for women working to escape domestic violence situations in 1999.

But, Trillium Artisans, On SE Foster Road just west of 92nd Avenue, has grown into an enterprise that empowers artisans and actively connects them to markets, says its executive director, Amanda McCloskey.

When we ask her to explain how this organization helps artists, she suggests we meet two members.

Transforming lawn furniture into billfolds
April Alden says she’s been involved in art all of her life. “But for the last year I’ve been with Trillium Artisans, and I’ve been treating my artwork more as a business than a hobby.”

Her brand is Rosewebs. She makes items made from recycled and reclaimed lawn furniture webbing.

“Always having a retail presence here in the store really helps,” says Alden as she shows us come of her goods. “If someone wants to see my products, I can tell them where they can see my products in person.” Alden says her web-made fashions can be found online at www.rosewebs.etsy.com.

But the best part for her, Alden comments, is being part of a supportive art community. “It inspires me to be around others who are also creating artwork. Sometimes this business can be discouraging. The workshops they hold for members have helped me. And, I get an honest critique of my work – feedback is very important.”

Turning art into income
More than being an “artists social club and school”, Trillium Artisans also provides business counseling.

“This has been huge for me,” adds Alden. “From them, I’ve learned how to turn my crafts into a real business. And, through the organization, I have merchant services, allowing me to be able to accept credit card payment at shows and fairs.”

Christine Claringbold, whose imprint is Eye Pop Art, shows one of her mandala bowls fashioned from a recycled vinyl phonograph record. The bracelet she models is one of her “Roman Record Cuffs”, also made from a recycled vinyl record.

Going for the record
Christine Claringbold, Eye Pop Art, says her first line of goods was the Mandala Record Bowl and clock, made from a recycled vinyl phonograph records, and then hand painted.

She agrees with Alden that the networking is an important benefit of being a Trillium Artisan. “I got the idea of making my Roman Record Cuff bracelets from a Trillium staff member. They’ve become my best selling item.”

It is one thing to make art, Claringbold tells us, but quite another to sell it. “We hear learn about art shows and other sales opportunities from each other. They help you develop your marketing outlets, like selling your goods in the Internet.” She says her web site is www.eyepopart.com.

“If you’re making crafts and art out of recycled and reclaimed materials, you should check them out,” Claringbold adds.

Amanda McCloskey, executive director at Trillium Artisans, models an earring and necklace set by Mel Stiles, Stubborn, and holds a Trillium Designs Catnip Slugs.

Marketplace for ‘green’ artisans
“Helping artisans market to customers looking for ‘green’ goods is the main thrust of our organization,” explains executive director Amanda McCloskey.

McCloskey says she’s not an artist – her training is in urban planning, with an emphasis in community development – tells us why Trillium Artisans attracted her.

“My mom started sewing potholders and selling them at the Eugene Saturday Market 30 years ago. She’s turned that into a viable business. She teaches quilting classes here and internationally, and designs her own line of fabrics. So, I’ve seen a ‘market vendor’ turn crafts into a viable business. That’s what we do here.”

“Catnip Slug” draws nationwide buyers
Walking over to a window display, McCloskey picks up a cellophane-wrapped product. “This is a Trillium Designs Catnip Slug. It’s one of our biggest sellers. Mud Bay Pet Supply – a natural products pet store chain in Washington – buys them by the carton. Our online sales of them are good; people from all over the country order them.”

The artists collective conceived the product, she reports, as a way to generate piecework income for artisans. “They’re made from recycled and reclaimed materials, and stuffed with organic catnip.”

Whether a “house brand” or an individual’s creation, all of the arts and crafts sold, McCloskey says, “reflect a commitment to sustainability: They are created with at least 50% recycled or reclaimed materials. And, they are priced to pay the artisan a living wage.”

Saturday sale supports artisans
On the way out, McCloskey asks us to mention that Saturday, November 10, is the date of their annual Holiday Sale.

“We’ve got earth-friendly, fair-traded, locally-handmade craft gifts that make great holiday presents. Meet the artisans, enjoy wine and goodies, and save 10% on your entire purchase. This special sale runs from 1 until 6 p.m.”

The gallery showroom is located at 9119 SE Foster Road, just west of SE 92nd Avenue. Call (503) 775-7993, or see them online at www.trilliumartisans.org for more details.

© 2007 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News Service

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