January 16th, 2011

The Neighborhood

I would now like to take the opportunity to introduce the various artisans who make up the creative enclave to which I have been fortunate enough to have moved into.  Over the course of the summer and into the fall, while moving in and setting up shop in a corner of Bellingham, certain characters began to emerge.  Located along the town’s bike path resides a neighborhood of like minded individuals, each building a livelihood from their unique trade.  Whether through a work party to put a new roof on before the rain, or advice about an unusual project idea, over a cup of shop espresso, or an in prom-to mountain bike ride, it wasn’t long before I became immersed in a community that truly reaffirmed the hard work and ambitions of my move.

Kyle adopted Bellingham as his canvas for community activism 15 years ago.  Before long he became a major advocate for the bicycle as an alternative form of transportation.  Ever since, bicycle accessibility and community outreach has been his mission.  Starting out as a member of the Pedal Project, a free bike program that supplies people with yellow bikes for in town use, Kyle then went on to co-found and eventually run the HUB Community Bike Shop.  The Hub is a non-profit business dedicated to keeping the community cycling, whether through tune-ups, repairs, reconditioned bikes for sale, a self-service shop space for rent, or various community events, classes and volunteer programs.  From what I’ve seen over the past six months, the HUB is a very vibrant and invaluable asset to a wide range of the Bellingham community, including avid bike commuters and cyclists, students, low income and homeless populations, and anyone interested in learning about the mechanics of their bike.  At any given time there is usually an on-slot of eager patrons keeping Kyle and has candid staff of five hard at work.  When the dust settles from the HUB’s business hours, Kyle can often be found building another unusual bicycle creation like the “Huggy Tandem”, or working on a commercial bike rack commission, built entirely from salvaged bike remnants.

Across the yard from the HUB is Creative Openings.  After climbing the large steps to a porch and sliding open the old rolling door, you step into a shop filled with antique industrial equipment, a warm wood stove and the fragrance of various woods.  With a big grin, Tom graciously welcomes the all too often visitors that pass in and out of his shop entry.  For the past 25 years Tom has been making a living through his fine woodwork and unique ideas.  Founded on building artistic hardwood screens and doors, Creative Openings has moved through a long history of commissioned projects and is now fully immersed in creating very high quality beautiful wood fenders for bicycles.  Within each of Tom’s projects, his craftsmanship shows a deep understanding and respect of the material he uses.   His experience and shop has become an invaluable resource for the various wooden projects  within the studio compound.

On the first floor of Creative Openings one often encounters any number of the local color sipping extraordinary espresso out of one unusual brewing apparatus or another.  This would be the espresso machine service lair of EVL enterprises.  On a daily basis Craig steps into the diverse world of good espresso and perform vital service to the machines that pump caffeine into the arteries of Bellingham.  Craig generously keeps the coffee grinder filled with whatever is to be the roasted flavor of the week.  The shop special includes steamed chocolate milk from the local dairy.

Walking a few steps north along the path one comes to another compound of activity; an old barn on one side where I have set up shop, and a number of other spaces across the gravel yard. One in particular is the home of Positive Negative, a community darkroom and photography studio.  Jason has been constructing this impressive facility for a number of months, with no detail unconsidered.  The shop will include a darkroom with 4 black and white developing stations, a room designated for digital artwork processes, a presentation and gallery space, a general workshop area, and a small bathroom that doubles as a film developing ‘black’ room.  I have admired Jason’s use of salvaged materials and general resourcefulness as he thoroughly pieces the shop together.  Like Tom and Kyle’s buildings, Jason’s project is a fine example of turning a nearly condemned space into an exceptionally beautiful, professional and creative business.

Over the past few seasons I’ve been able to watch my building partner Bay in action and am continually inspired.  The grounds around the building I rent is home to Bay’s native plant nursery, Plantas Nativas, which is a home base for a very diverse business.  An environmental activist by heart, Bay has been a botanist and landscaper for 14 years and over the course of his experience has learned a lot about the Northwest and its ecology.  Along with the nursery Bay, works on landscape projects large and small with an emphasis on watershed restoration.  Over the sunny months as the trees and shrubs go to seed, Bay is off traveling to different regions of the state collecting seed.  From hillsides to highways to abandoned industrial sites, Bay bushwhacks with buckets, ladders and his dog Benzo to get whatever seed, berry or nut he hopes is ripe for harvesting.  For Months he speculates as to when a certain variety of plant in a certain region of the state will be just right.  Then comes the process of extracting perfectly clean, fertile seed from his harvests.  Over this season I watched Bay process about 20 varieties of berries, nuts, flowers and pods, each with its own technique based on the certain unique characteristics of each plant and seed.  Come October, Bay had an impressive inventory of perfect seed product ready to deliver to a number of large scale nurseries.

As a collective whole, my neighbors offer no shortage of ideas, skills and enthusiasm.  The only limitation in being a self-employed artisan is hours in the day, and as the seasons have turned to rain and snow, I can see how much time it all takes and how dearly it is spent.

One Response to “The Neighborhood”

  1. linda blake says:

    i love the community recorded via this site & picutres – do you ever need volunteers to help with projects or light maintenance? i have loved & encouraged The Hub for years – but feel a need to surround myself in artistic ambiance to stay grounded – no talent myself – but an avid spectator – thanks for what you do for dear old Bellingham

    – Linda

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