London. Paris. Wheeler?
By her own description, Issaquah, Wash., interior designer Beth McCann is an “inveterate antique-er and flea marketer.” She’s led clients on tours through markets in London and Paris and teases out the location of shops specializing in the old and used in cities all over the world. So, when she talks about finding a new favorite, you might think Rome, maybe Berlin, Milan? But Wheeler? Wheeler, population 436, blink-and-you’ll-miss-it on the Oregon Coast? Yes, that Wheeler.
This was the year McCann discovered Heart of Cartm’s Refindery.
“We go to the coast every summer for 8 days,” McCann said. “I just found The Refindery in August, and I was impressed with the shop and what they are trying to do in educating the public about reuse. I picked up some charming things: Christmas decorations, decoupage pears, snowmen made out of wire. They are new and different and wonderfully priced. I told them, we’ll be back.”
OREGON CULTURAL HUBS: An occasional series
The Refindery is but one chapter in a success story that only four years ago seemed to have reached its end. Just before Christmas 2019, Tillamook County terminated its contract with CARTM (originally an acronym for Conservation Action Resource Team of Manzanita), which had operated the transfer station and a recycling shop in Manzanita for more than 20 years. The future did not look bright, but over time the nonprofit regrouped, renamed the organization Heart of Cartm, and two years ago opened The Refindery.
Levering Thomas was one of the first to volunteer at the shop.
“Things move really rapidly in the store, especially pieces of furniture,” Thomas said. “We have unique contributions that you won’t necessarily find anywhere else. Community members are the donors, and they are so proud of what we are doing. One estate left us a collection of African art and collectibles. That happens fairly frequently.”
Since opening The Refindery, the group has been evolving and expanding with numerous offshoots, all of them grounded in Heart of Cartm’s mission: “Reuse. Repair. Reimagine.”
“Some exciting things have come out of opening the store,” said Jessi Just, executive director of Heart of Cartm and its only paid employee. “Our organization has truly recognized its significance in rural sustainability. When we were at the transfer station, we were a recycling center and we felt very proud of that, but now that we are away from the transfer station and we have our own space, we’ve noticed that we have stepped away from the garbage – physically and figuratively — as we asked others to do in zero-waste work.
“Think about your resources, think about the things that you are discarding as resources. By doing that, you are stepping away from the garbage and really diving into what else can we do with this stuff.”
That new way of looking at garbage led the group to rent additional space by The Refindery to add room for repair-and-reuse classes. The group also now offers the Repair Cafe, meeting once a month with crew of people who volunteer to fix what they can.
John Goertzen, a retired salesman, was one of the co-founders of the Repair Cafe. It started before COVID, then ended during the pandemic. Heart of Cartm took it on about two years ago. Other volunteers, all retired, include an electrical engineer, seamstresses, a mechanical engineer, and others with a myriad of handy skills.
They rewire lamps, unclog vacuum cleaners, and make mixers mix again. “KitchenAid mixers never die,” Goertzen said. “We see a lot of KitchenAid that are second-generation, one third-generation.”
Goertzen’s special skill is his “willingness to just jump in and try it. Not saying no,” he said. “I was raised by Depression-era parents, and it was make do or do without. That’s just kind of the way life was.”
Nancy Contolini, 76, learned about the Repair Cafe from a friend. She moved to Oregon from Connecticut in 2007 and bought her house in Rockaway Beach 12 years ago. She needs help around the house but finds getting a professional often requires a long wait. When she first discovered the Repair Cafe, she took clothing in for alterations. Then came the day she ordered a filing cabinet, and it arrived in pieces.
Contolini probably could have put it together, she said, “but it would take me hours and I don’t have tools. I brought it in; they were great. They put it together and carted it to the car. I’m telling all the friends I have that didn’t know about it. There’s so many things they repair…. Their philosophy is don’t put it in the dump, we’ll fix it for you. It feels a lot better.”
Feeling better is also the idea behind the nonprofit’s retreat, Transforming Marine Debris. Held twice yearly, the next retreat is set for Nov. 3-5.
“The idea of this retreat is to turn the marine debris into something more pleasurable, like art,” Just said. “The wonderful thing about this retreat is it gives participants time to process the destruction of marine debris. It’s such a huge problem that we can hardly wrap our heads around it. The retreat gives people time to reflect on it, learn about it.”
Participants go to Rockaway’s Manhattan Beach, where they meet up with Jesse Jones, CoastWatch Program Manager for Oregon Shores Conservation Coalition and retreat leader. Jones offers a short class on community science, introducing people to the protocols of the marine debris survey she conducts for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The group completes the survey – picking up and recording all debris in a specific segment of the beach, then uploading the information to a NOAA website, where it will be used for scientific study. Then, the survey complete, the group picks up trash from the beach, which they may use in the art workshop back in town.
“People do get excited about what they find,” Jones said. “That’s why they want to find more and more and more. I have seen some eerily beautiful marine-debris art. There’s so much to think about when you are looking at something created with trash … human ingenuity, pollution, creativity, waste, beauty.”
There is, however, occasionally a certain paradox to the beach cleanup.
“Earlier this year, it was disappointing that we didn’t find a lot,” Jones said. “It’s an irony we always discuss among us – that it’s great, but it’s also a bummer. We don’t find as much in the summer as we do in the winter months, because the water brings in more debris. Once the rains have come, they’ll start washing more down from the rivers. We’ll probably already have some big waves and big rains and probably will be a lot more debris on the beach in November.”
While Heart of Cartm has introduced all kinds of new programs for reusing, repairing, and reimagining stuff, they cling to at least one tradition. That would be the spring Trash Bash Art Festival, which includes the wildly popular Trashion Show, along with the Trash Art Gallery and Trash Tales Storytelling. In recent years, festival events were held at separate venues due to space issues. The 2024 festival will be different.
“This coming year will be the 25th anniversary,” Just said. “Our board was very adamant, as was I, about bringing all these events back together, and we really put our heads together. How can we make this happen?
“Then we found that the White Clover Grange is going through their own repairs and transformation projects in order to make it safe and comfortable for large events to happen there. This is a magical union that we are able to host the 2024 art festival at the White Clover Grange. It’s our annual fundraiser. It celebrates transformation. It celebrates everything we believe in.”