Dying Artisan Race Helps Myrtlewood Stand Alone | Community

It can take a century for an Oregon myrtlewood tree to reach commercial size, and sharpening its strong, heavy wood into something that can be taken home is also extremely slow.

While historically prized by carpenters is myrtlewood, the tree makes a handful of appearances in the Bible, including a passage that revere its properties alongside those of life and fertility.

Although the Oregon myrtlewood is not exactly the same tree that is referenced in the religious text, the California Bay Laurel family member is considered to be one of the most beautiful hardwoods and can only be found in areas along southern Oregon and northern California. coasts.

Influenced by the dirt and minerals it grows in, the resulting grain of myrtlewood is tightly woven to the point that no distinct growth circle can be seen. When molded into a four-by-12-inch bowl, it can cost up to $ 150 and take up to three months to make.

It is, if it is well done.

“I’m old fashioned, I want to buy something really good quality and I’ll pay more for it because I want it to last 20 years,” said Michael Merica, owner of Rogue River Myrtlewood Shop in Gold Beach.

According to Merica, the base color of an Oregon myrtlewood tends to be blonde or light gray.

“But because of the minerals it grows in here, it will react to those mineralizations and you can get a wide variety of honey, amber, brown and brown colorations that can go all the way to dark chocolate brown,” Merica said.

A stroll through Merica’s store and the deep colors of the bowls, trays, and clocks are plentiful. Its other flagship – a wooden headlight that casts a pattern of light that resembles raindrops – isn’t your average kitsch.

A lot of work is required to make each product. When grown, the general rule of thumb is that it takes a year for an inch of myrtle wood to dry. Kiln-dried wood speeds up this process, but even this requires controlled environments where temperature, humidity, and vapor levels must match the natural process.

“Let’s say a product is made in a jungle climate and isn’t dried properly,” Merica said. “When you bring it to Arizona or Alberta in Canada, it’s a lot more likely to crack. Some people also come knowing that our wood comes from secondary logging and that they have been trained to view logging as not environmentally friendly. But we have bowls that families have been using for 50 years. What is the environmental cost when you have to replace a bowl every two years? “

The profession requires patience, and above all desire. However, just as myrtlewood is too heavy to float in water, the carpentry business experiences its own type of shipwreck.

“It has changed, the industry is dying,” Merica said.

Compromised quality products made overseas and sold through internet platforms keep some of Merica’s products on the shelves, and prices don’t keep up with inflation.

“When I took over the business, that four-by-eight-inch bowl cost $ 92, so in almost 20 years it’s only gone up about $ 10,” said Merica. “I really should be making $ 400 for this bowl, but the reality is if I mark it at $ 400, I’m only going to sell three or four bowls a year, and I can’t make a living from that.”

Add to that the increase in timber prices, minimum wage rates and insurance, and Merica said he had been forced to let most of his workers, except for his carpenter, go.

As a result, Merica and his wife, Caryn, must run the store’s gift shop where over 95% of her sales are made by tourists. Raising a family and trying to manage finances, product purchases and other logistical aspects of running a business is no small feat.

“How can I sit here and say to a kid, ‘Hey, this is a good deal’ when they’re physically working hard and making a product that can’t keep up with inflation? Merica asked.

A quick search on Amazon for wooden bowls, and the prices can be 40% cheaper, maybe cheaper. But like fast fashion, is it a good deal?

“I brought in a young adult who worked with one of the Chinese furniture makers probably 10 years ago, and he was just in awe,” Merica said. “He ran his fingers over everything and he said ‘We can’t do this.’ I told him, ‘You can, it’s just that you choose not to because when you have to sell it below a certain price, the first person to be eliminated is management or someone from the Quality Control’.

Turning products into a volume business is neither new nor region specific. Take, for example, the arts and crafts movement that brought high-quality artisan homes to the United States, including parts of Oregon.

At the turn of the 20th century, Gustav Stickley, a well-known New York furniture maker, expanded his business and began building bungalows featuring high-quality wooden beams and built-in bookcases and mantels. It didn’t take long for Sears, Roebuck and Company to capitalize on the momentum and start selling scaled-down plans of these homes, but at unbeatable development prices that didn’t include high-end amenities.

Will myrtle wood products suffer the same fate?

“I don’t have a ready-made answer to that, but it’s a good question to ask and it’s something I don’t see in the US market,” Merica replied.

About Jefferey G. Cannon

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