Salvage Mission

Salvage Mission

As cofounder and board chair Lisa Spetrini guided me through the racks, bins, shelves, cubbies and jars of artsy, craftable salvage in North Haven’s EcoWorks—“Connecticut’s only Creative Reuse Center”—I thought of all the creative people I know and wondered, Do they know about this place?

Up front, the store’s “ReBoutique” sells creations from local artists using material EcoWorks has diverted from landfills. “We offer a 40-60 split in favor of the artist,” Spetrini says. “Part of our mission is to make micro income for artists use recycled materials.” Amid sculptures, clothes, rugs, jewelry and other objects, witty works caught my eye: tote bags fashioned from men’s button-down shirts by Fairy Moon Design, with the collars repurposed into handles, and jaunty hats by Anita Belkun, with, for example, teaspoons instead of feathers flaring from the hatband.

The ReBoutique can also serve as inspiration for what to do with the wealth of stuff throughout the rest of the store, organized under banners into categories like Sewing & Notions, Paper World and Art Supplies. “Our executive director, Tricia Maloney, brought a higher level of organization to us,” Spetrini notes.

That doesn’t mean you won’t stumble onto surprises. For me, that meant bins of ink stamps, a bin of corks, a doll house, a vast assortment of miniatures, kitchen equipment including a cookie press and doilies with a little sign: “100s available.” An entire wall of beads, some displayed in reused tennis ball canisters, was the partial result of a 700-pound donation of beads, yet their “biggest sellers” are yarn and fabric, sold by the ounce or pound. The stuff is “random,” Spetrini says, but “in the hands of a creative, that pile of mish and mosh becomes… magic.”

More “mish and mosh” is stored in a small rear warehouse, where industrial scraps—wood, cone yarn, leather—and anything that might be dangerous, like ceramic and glass shards, are stored. This is also where new donations are sorted, cleaned, and packaged.

Spetrini says a bigger space as well as free parking out front “are what sold us on moving away from New Haven” to North Haven in 2018, when the Ninth Square building that housed EcoWorks was sold. Operating since 2012, EcoWorks recently received grants from the New Haven Arts Council/National Endowment for the Arts and RecycleCT and is currently run by a “working board of five” as well as dedicated volunteers. While keeping material out of the landfill, “we make materials available at low cost, at thrift prices, specifically to meet the needs of teachers parents and stimulate creativity all across the board,” she says.

Since the pandemic, instead of hosting occasional classes, teaching artists now put together take-home kits to hand out at community events, like the Westville Arts Market last Sunday, where Anna Ramirez led a yarn wrap dollmaking demo featuring her “Affirmation Dolls.” A tool swap and repair clinic is scheduled for this Sunday, July 17, at Volume Two: A Never Ending Books Collective, where a couple of carpenters and some artists will be on hand to help. EcoWorks events and inventory highlights are posted regularly on Facebook and Instagram.

Ultimately, “we really want to change the way people think about waste,” Spetrini says, “and how so much of what we throw away, mindlessly, is a material that needs a project. It needs the application of design thinking. And then we’d have so much less waste.”

Written and photographed by Heather Jessen.

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