Reclaimed Helena scouts the heart of the Delta to breathe new life into old wood
Story & Photos by Casey Hilder
Arts | October 2015
For Jan Feldman and the rest of the team at Reclaimed Helena, a little creative thinking and 128 like-minded citizens was all it took to bring an all-new entrepreneurial endeavor out of the woodwork.
“As we got going, through our Kickstarter campaign and other methods, it seems like the community really embraced it,” he says. “Not just here in Helena, but all across the Delta.”
The idea sprang from a conversation piece in the house of a friend of co-founder Misti Staley. A blackened shelf made from refurbished from wood of a burnt-out house in the West Helena area drew Staley’s attention. Staley, a local creative with a hand in many of the colorful murals surrounding the riverside city, decided to replicate the look and feel of this piece of unique furniture for the masses.
Shortly after, Staley and Feldman, a 28-year-old Swedish immigrant who came to Helena to do flooring four years ago, began crowdfunding their idea: A business built on the untold stories of the Delta through handcrafted, American-made tables, benches, chairs and drawing boards.
A Kickstarter campaign helmed by Feldman and comprised of 128 backers pledged $35,784 to help bring the team’s vision to reality, drawing orders from across Arkansas, Mississippi, and even as far away as London, England.
“It’s a win-win proposition for our city and its people,” says Helena-West Helena Mayor Jay Hollowell. “We’ve got all these dilapidated and burnt-out houses that the city can’t afford to tear down or store. Most all of that material is not going to our landfills.”
With more than 30 new designs and more in the process, the team of seven entrepreneurs and artisans at Reclaimed Helena set about gathering materials and claiming a workspace. The team was granted a small warehouse in Downtown Helena through Thrive, a nonprofit graphic design firm that helps small businesses grow in conjunction with the Helena Entrepreneur Center.
“This is our small business incubator,” Feldman says of the warehouse that stocks tons of reclaimed wood from abandoned homes in the area. The wood comes from a variety of sources, including the old doors, fences, signs and posts that fill the warehouse and three trailers, all loaded to bear. “At first we were scavenging a little bit, asking for permission where we could,” Feldman says. “But now, we work with the city, the banks and the nonprofits to directly acquire these old properties.”
While still in its first year of operation, the team from Reclaimed Helena has already orchestrated the demolition of eight ailing properties with the help of contracted assistance. The haul from each site was staggering. “Think of a building, you have the inside frame, the outside, the floors — you come back with a bunch,” Feldman says. “The wood is amazing. All kinds, too. Two by fours and more. Not the one-and-a-half pieces you might find from your local hardware store, the real, good stuff.”