Cannibals is not a restaurant—human flesh is a hard sell in Northwest Portland. It's a new art gallery (518 NW 21st Ave., 224-2663) that showcases handmade objects by artists who use recycled materials. It's longtime vintage clothier Pamela Springfield's boldest endeavor to date, located right next door to her original store on Northwest 21st Avenue, Keep 'Em Flying.
Springfield envisioned a gallery that featured original art at a price that would appeal to all budgets. Pieces range from tiny $20 trinkets to expensive collector's sculptures—all handmade by local artists. There are mod multicolored clocks made from scrap Formica, hats hand-sewn from single vintage ties, unicorn-themed handbags in period fabrics, handcrafted dolls from bits and pieces normally used for medical devices, and perhaps the most bizarre: Jon Brittingham's Ink, a huge metal octopus comprising 690 valve covers, an exhaust manifold and other metal salvaged from a body shop. It's a showcase of DIY Portland, and everyone can afford something. In other words, it screams PDX.
Springfield is hardly a new face in the world of secondhand. She's been outfitting Portland in what she dubs "contemporary vintage clothing" at Keep 'Em Flying since 1985: recycled fashion in the land of recycling. She moved to Portland from California in 1969, and she remembers initially being annoyed by Oregon's newly minted bottle bill in 1971. "I wasn't used to recycling," she remembers, "but I soon realized the streets were so much cleaner...after a while I didn't mind." Later, on a visit to Houston, Texas, she noticed people throwing everything in the trash. "I realized...I'm part of the solution—not the problem," she recalls. "Imagine what the world would think about America if they saw a wealthy country choosing to make art and clothing out of trash." And last month, Cannibals was born.
It's no surprise Cannibals would surface here. No city in the United States recycles more than Portland does. With organizations like SCRAP and the ReBuilding Center, Portland has built a unique culture out of recycling, one Springfield says has been brewing for years. "Portland has an alternative fashion and furniture movement that has been around for a long time, so the idea of thematically vintage recycled retail is very honest to Portland."
"When people come to visit or migrate to Portland, they see how cooperative we are in addressing environmental problems and how creative and inventive we are in solving them," she stresses, "there is no reason why Houston couldn't do it, too."