Studio Visit: WildCraft Studio School

We spent a day in White Salmon, Washington at the Wildcraft Studio School created by Chelsea Heffner. The school is intended to facilitate and promote interdisciplinary relationships between studio work and nature as well as traditional skills and plant medicine. Chelsea is an accomplished painter and printmaker who recently started dabbling in textile, teaching and consulting.  We were in awe when we arrived in the studio, the energy of the space and the stunning ambiance was limitless. From the array of natural dyes hung on the wall, the barn doors that opened to the garden, looms and Chelsea’s work, it all felt special. It was great to get to spend some time with Chelsea and learn more about how she found this magical place in White Salmon and why she started Wildcraft Studio School. We spent time with her in the garden while she was installing fencing to deter the deer and some quality time in her home kitchen that also serves as the communal dining space for guests. Her intention is to encourage a more aware and conscious life style with simplicity and creativity at the forefront. If you haven’t been it’s an experience you don’t want to miss out on. Enjoy the photos of Chelsea at the Wildcraft Studio School and fascinating interview!

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1. Why White Salmon? What was it that drew you to White Salmon or has kept you here?

I moved to Portland in 2007 to attend the 1st year of the MFA in Visual Studies program at PNCA and started a textile design/knitwear business called plainMADE immediately after graduating. The madness of getting into production, attending tradeshows and day to day of running the business consumed my life for the first 2 years post-school and I rarely saw the outside of my studio. Luckily, in a moment of down-time I took a trip out to The Gorge and spent some time in White Salmon, WA. I loved the openness of the landscape, the plants were all different and wonderful, and I just stumbled onto the studio that now houses WildCraft.

2. What are your favorite things happening in White Salmon(design or otherwise)?

My favorite thing happening in White Salmon right now is the roadside lupine blossoms. The wildflowers are, by far, the best design event happening in town.

3. How did your school start?

The relationship between art and everyday life is something I’ve spent a good deal of time thinking about. I’ve never subscribed to the thought that artists need to suffer in order to make good work and generally, I prefer the notion that one can live an incredibly rich life that draws creativity into everyday activities. My goal in creating WildCraft was to bring creative people out of the city, and provide space in a rural environment to allow for openness, shifts in thinking and fluid interaction with the natural world.

4. What has been your biggest obstacle?

The weather! The Gorge has incredibly extreme weather, whipping winds, squally storms and occasional dumps of winter snow that can force a person to x-country ski 8 miles into town just for a cup of cocoa. The house is only warm if you build a fire, and just keeping up with the basic necessities can be a full-time job. The extreme nature of this climate is also what makes The Gorge such a special place, and also makes the people who live here year-round tough and interesting individuals. 

5. What or who inspires your design?

When I’m drawing to make a screenprint, I’m always looking at something. I have to work from reference and preferably from life: gathered plants, or objects. The simplicity of Marimekko and Josef Frank textiles, Mexican Folk Art, and traditional motifs found on embroidered textiles from Eastern Europe have always been an inspiration. I love seeing evidence of people forced to simplify a highly complex form, in order to translate it onto fabric. The successful translations are repeated and hundreds of years later we have cultural symbols. I’m inspired by evidence of where limitations (in skill, technology or materials) have created good design.

6. What is your favorite part of your studio?

The best thing about the WildCraft studio is its location. A 2 minute walk down the driveway and I’m in the forest. Another 5 minutes and the forest opens up into meadows full of wildflowers, and sweeping views of The Gorge. This area has been a site of classes and a fantastic source for dye plants and medicinals for our classes.

7. Tell us two truths and a lie!

1. There are no mice in the shop

2. There are no spiders in the bed

3. There are no cats in the compost

8. 5 things you can’t live without.

-open space

-creative space

-fruit

-rowdy friends

-big projects