Wise Up: Get Crafty

Basket Weaving to Spoon Carving, WildCraft Offers Arts & Crafts for Grown-Ups

It’s like summer camp forever.

By Rebecca Jacobson November 14, 2016 Published in the December 2016 issue of Portland Monthly

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Clockwise from top left: foraging near Carson, Washington, for minerals and pigments for paint making; straining a marigold dye-bath; a beginning weaving class; making block-printed textiles in Portland; prepping foraged rosehips during a medicine-making workshop

On a mild fall evening, in an expansive room on SE Hawthorne Boulevard, eight women stand at tabletop looms. Traffic zips past as the women thread yarn through the warp and sip roasted-dandelion-root tea. Conversation floats from the ramifications of Brexit to a sublime-sounding dinner at an alpaca farm. The Velvet Underground thrums in the background. A cuddly pit bull mix named Mae noses for attention.

This is WildCraft Studio School, a hub for wholesome, hand-hewn pursuits. It’s a place to make dyes from elderberries and apple wood, to embroider pillows, and to carve basswood into spoons—the sorts of crafts, in other words, that could be written off as frivolous hobby or hippie-dippy homesteading. Here, though, they’re embraced with earnest idealism, academic rigor, and a firm belief in their practical application.

“It’s a relaxing thing to do, and a creative, fun thing to do, but we take it really seriously,” says WildCraft founder Chelsea Heffner. “The instructor is as qualified as you would get in a college class.”

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A native flora class in the Columbia River Gorge

Heffner, 33, started the school in 2012 with workshops on a five-acre property in White Salmon, Washington. In early 2016 she expanded to Portland, with classes run out of the high-ceilinged, 1,200-square-foot front room at Fieldwork Design. Now, the school offers as many as 60 workshops per season, a mix of monthlong courses and shorter intensives (a note for would-be mushroom hunters and rock hounds: those trips fill up especially quickly). Nike and Adidas have tapped WildCraft for workshops—testing, for example, how well natural dyes take to high-tech textiles.

Another calling card? WildCraft’s robust lineup of classes taught by Native artists, including Kalapuya and Coast Salish weaving. Heffner, who’s not Native herself, says it took a while to build trusting relationships. But the payoff has been huge: “These are the kinds of classes you cannot get outside of Native centers or reservations.”

Wildcraft Studio School

Classes in Southeast Portland and around the Northwest.
Monthlong classes and weekend intensives.
Roughly $100–300 per class.

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