Oregon Myrtle wood products
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truffler1635 at my-deja.com
Wed Oct 18 12:39:57 EST 2000
>From The Sunday Oregonian, Oct. 15, 2000, p C10
Changing trends sap the mystique from myrtlewood
Demand shrinks for products made of the wood that once was highly prized
by souvenir hunters
By LARRY BACON, The Associated Press
EUGENE -- If you have a souvenir of Oregon's south coast, chances
are it's made of myrtlewood.
The rare and beautiful wood, from a striking tree that grows from
Southwest Oregon and Northern California to Southern California, si the
south coast's unofficial symbol.
Oregonians have bene making a living selling myrtlewood salt and
pepper shakers, bowls and goblets since U.S. 101 became a pipeline for
coastal tourism about 70 years ago.
Myrtlewood sourvenirs are styll for sale in shops along U.S. 101 and
in inland communities such as Myrtle Point, but the number of shops has
dwindled in recent years.
And that bothers people such as Terry Woodall, a 49-year-old
myrtlewood artist who lives on 6 1/2 acres of wooded property east of
North Bend that includes large stands of his favorite tree. He's seen at
least a half-dozen shops close in the past five years.
"there are major flagship myrtlewood shops that have gone now," he
said. "I personally think it's becuase trends are changing. It's a
generational thing. Anybody that buys myrtlewood now is in a motor home
and over 50 years old.
"They're the ones who appreciate a fine piece of furniture, a
grandfather clock or a nice wood bread box. the next generation? It's all
electronic toys. Anybody who spends $300 is going to buy some electronic
gismo. They're not spending money on nice hand-crafted art pieces."
If Woodall sounds a little bitter, it's becuase he is. He's grown up
in myrtlewood country and has been making his living from the wood since
He's turned out his share of traditional myrtlewood gift items, such
as bowls and small carvings. But in recent years, he's shifted his
emphasis to larger fine art wildlife pieces -- such as twisting and
leaping salmon -- sold in art galleries for as much as $3,000.
He's not getting rich, he said. But he sticks with it becuase he
loves the wood, which challenges him with an unbelievable range of
patterns and colors, from ebony and tiger stripes to lighter hues of
blond, pink and yellow.
Nothing satisfies him more, he said, thatn to work it, see it take
shape and see the colors and patterns emerge as he rubs the wood with
"I don't want to see this become a lost art," Woodall said.
But the art form may be on its way out. Others in the myrtlewood
industry say many of the longtime artisans who supplies the shops are
retiring or long gone.
And finding people who know how to work with the wood or even young
people willing to learn is getting harder.
Tracy Hassett has trained more than a dozen people to make
myrtlewood pieces since 1973, when he went into the business. But most
won't stick with it, he said.
"Nobody wants to work that hard," said Hassett, woner of Pacific
Myrtlewood in Bandon. "It's long hours for modest pay."
Others acknowledge the difficulty in finding apprentices to develop
the skills they need to work with the wood, such as judging how much the
wood will warp as it dried or cutting the raw wood for furniture so the
pieces will match in color and grin.
"The learning curve is so long and has so many peculiarities to it
that most people just give up on it," said Chuck Alcock of Grants Pass,
who owns a myrtlewood products factory and two retail outlets.
Other factors are contributing to the downturn. SOme shop owners say
tourism has declined in recent years.
Others talk about more competition for the sourvenir dollar.
Myrtlewood shops used to be the obvious choice for shoppers. Now a
plethora of shops offer a variety of items, including cheap imported wood
"The plain fact is that on the south coast we have at least three
times as many gift shops as we did in the '60s," Hassett said. "It's
difficult to compete for the dollars."
Some have looked for new ways to compete, diversifying their
merchandise to include offersing other than myrtlewood.
A few years ago, The House of Myrtlewood in Coos Bay became The
Oregon Connection to let travelers know it has gift items other than
The name change has helped, said Tricia Shreck, Oregon Connection
manager. Her family has owned the business since 1972. It now sells
products, including a new myrtlewood putter, from a Web site.
And most myrtlewood pieces now have a ntural oil finish rather than
the shiny high-gloss coating of the past.
The tree's mystique is its selling point, industry insiders say.
Tourists see myrtlewood as a symbol of the place where they spent their
vacation, and that extra sales edge is missing for people who try to
market myrtlewood outside of Oregon and Northern California.
But a few new markets exist. Religious items sold throughout the
United States account for a third of the Wooden Nickel's sales, said
Harvey Johnston, an owner of the Port Orford operation, one of the
coast's largest myrtlewood factories and retail businesses.
The myrtlewood religious line includes collection plates, communion
trays and containers for holy water and consecrated oil.
Posted as a courtesy by:
Daniel B. Wheeler
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