By Ellen Spitaleri
WildCraft Studio School has come a long way from its roots, moving from a rural studio in White Salmon, WA, to a roomy, light-filled space on SE Hawthorne Blvd.
The school offers workshops for adults 16 and over in the practices of traditional craft, textiles, Native American arts, foraging and herbal medicine.
Chelsea Heffner, WildCraft Studio School founder and owner, began offering classes out of her personal studio in 2013 and then realized that the majority of her students were from Portland.
“It seemed like a smart move to bring the studio to Portland. Our friends at Fieldwork Design and Architecture were moving into the current space back in 2015 and invited us to share space,” she said. “The large windows and tall ceilings make it a fantastic workspace.”
Heffner noted that WildCraft offers off-site classes like mushroom forages out in the Columbia Gorge and clam digs on the Oregon coast. Special classes like Flower Farm Dyes or Coastal Dyes are hosted on private properties, rented for the occasion.
Textile and craft classes are the most popular offerings at the SE Hawthorne location, with workshops such as Seasonal Natural Dyes, Weekend Weaving and Wood Carving.
For Heffner, one of the most rewarding aspects of seeing the school grow over the years “has been witnessing many creative collaborations develop between teachers and students as the result of conversations in class, watching artists take skills they learned in a workshop and incorporate them into their artwork and seeing entrepreneurs learn new techniques and build them into their businesses.”
She said students who take the workshops are a diverse group including industry professionals looking to expand their knowledge base, textile designers, color and apparel designers, artists and hobbyists.
“Curiosity is the main driver, drawing people to new subjects, skills and practices,” she said.
“Some folks come for the process and others definitely come for the end product, which might be a hand-carved and cast silver ring or a woven rag rug.”
Hannah Fischer, assistant program coordinator, said the school offers a unique experience that people can gain in just a one-to-two-day class, without the commitment of attending a college or paying for an entire semester.
“A person can learn a new skill, dive deeper into a hobby, explore the Pacific Northwest or try their hand at something entirely new and out of their comfort zone,” Fischer added.
Heffner said fall classes this year will offer the most ambitious and diverse workshops to date.
“We ran an open call for teachers and have an incredible collection of new classes like Tapestry Loom Building, Screen Printing with Natural Dyes and Traditional Zapotec Weaving,” she said.
Signups for these classes will take place in late May and early June.
Instructor Julie Beeler teaches dyeing classes using mushrooms and botanical and natural dyes. She said she loves teaching at WildCraft because of the studio model Heffner has created for the school, which is similar to a professional artist’s studio practice.
“Creating this alternative studio school allows everyone to collaborate and participate in creative expression that they can bring into their own lives. It is a very interactive, collaborative and participatory experience where everyone can express their own unique creativity,” Beeler said.
Heffner is looking forward to starting the Access program, a completely new offering providing 50 free seats a year to BIPOC students actively pursuing degrees in art/craft/design, as well as to K-12 Portland Public School teachers.
“The immediate purpose of this program is to make WildCraft classes more accessible to BIPOC individuals who are dedicated to creative practice, with the hope of seeing these individuals thrive in leadership roles in the PNW art/design/craft community in the future,” she said.
The program “grew out of the social justice movements that took center stage in 2020 and the feeling that WildCraft needed to address issues of representation, diversity and inclusion in our own creative community,” she said.
She is thrilled to still be in business after the hardships of the past year and noted that she feels a “renewed sense of purpose and focus.”
The city’s reputation of being a haven for creative people has been weakened over the years with development and skyrocketing rental prices, she said and added “2020 was extremely hard on all businesses, and we’ve seen the closures of some of Portland’s cultural institutions. We hope that WildCraft can continue to grow and continue to be seen as a leader in art and craft education in Portland and in the great Northwest.”
The list of spring and summer classes is available on their website.
WildCraft Studio School
601 SE Hawthorne Blvd.
Instructor Rose Holdorf teaches wood carving and pack-basketmaking. Photo by Hannah Fischer