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Soap maker enjoys holidays' sweet scent


by: SUBMITTED PHOTO - Ruth Beck's felted dryer balls are a reusable natural alternative to dryer sheets.With the madness of Black Friday behind us, and the Christmas/Hanukkah season still to come, Ruth Beck has an idea that could make gift purchasing simpler and more heartfelt: put together gift baskets of homemade goods purchased from different local vendors.

“In these tough economic times, we all benefit from supporting small business, thereby strengthening our own local economies,” the Oregon City resident added.

Beck, the owner of Owl and Acorn, makes soaps and balms, felted soaps, felted dryer balls and hand-spun yarn, all of which are available locally at Wynona Studios on Main Street in downtown Oregon City.

She had been making soaps and balms for years as gifts for friends and family, as a kind of counterpoint to her academic pursuits at Marylhurst University, where she did her undergraduate work in religion and philosophy.

But just recently she decided to follow her heart, and Owl & Acorn officially became a business in May 2011.

“The name Owl & Acorn came from many moments of contemplation about what I want my work to symbolize, and who I want to honor,” Beck said.

Her mother represents the wise owl, while Beck thinks of herself as the acorn that did not fall far from the tree.

Her mother is her creative hero, Beck noted, saying that her mother, a collector of all things owl, is a talented artist and potter, in addition to being her best friend.

Beck describes soaps and balms as her passion, which she makes with the finest quality natural ingredients, “that will help skin regain and maintain natural healthy radiance. I am committed to using responsibly harvested, certified-organic carrier oils whenever possible, 100 percent pure essential oils and only natural herbal or mineral colorants and additives.”

But she admits that she is easily distractible and “and makes what the muse inspires.”

This has led her to make the felted items and hand-spun yarns, all crafted from the wool from her family’s sheep farm in rural Oregon City, which is also where her soap workshop is located.

“Being a maker of natural soaps and being a small business owner has been such a great way for me to stay true to the natural rhythms of life as they present themselves,” Beck said, noting that she is the mother of a son under 3, and having her own business allows her to “slow my life down to his pace, remain flexible and make choices independent of the typical nine-to-five workday demand.”

Soothing color and scent

Soon after opening her business, Beck was offered the opportunity to teach classes on making felted soaps at Wynona Studios, through the community education program at Clackamas Community College.

“I found it to be both challenging and rewarding, and have since been able to offer a few different classes through Wynona Studios. I believe that teaching is such an important part of being an artist/creator, as it is a way to share your passion, bring encouragement and provide useful knowledge for others looking to hone their crafts and creative expressions,” she said.

Starting this winter, Beck will add classes on making felted dryer balls and making natural balms and salves.

All of the handmade items she makes “are the kinds of small luxuries we could all afford to have more of in our lives, not only during the holidays but year-round,” Beck said.

“When someone uses or gifts one of my creations, it is my sincere hope they are taking a deep breath, inhaling, exhaling, slowing down, delighting in the details as they put their soap, balm or other product to use,” she said.

Beck wants her work “to bring pause and soothing color, scent and texture to the user, just as it does for me in the making of it. I believe we all benefit when we support the handmade ‘slow product’ movement. It’s a way of saying we care about the little things in life, too, and that maybe they really are no small thing after all.”

Boosting small businesses

This is a busy time of the year for Beck, as she sells her products at holiday bazaars, in addition to small, locally owned stores in Portland and Albany.

She loves this time of the year, she said, and not just because of the retail opportunities.

“The Winter Solstice is such a wonderful time for reflection, planning for the future and keeping the creative fires ablaze,” Beck said.

She also noted that she is excited to launch a new extension of Owl & Acorn, with the addition of her mother’s pottery.

“A variety of her high-fire ceramic soap dishes and other ceramic wares will soon be an exciting complement to the earthy expression of Owl & Acorn soaps. As always, I am excited to see what new inspiration will come my way via quiet and raucous moments in nature, gardening, farming, child-raising, music-making, writing; these are all places where I find my peace and dirt-inspired joie de vivre,” she said.

And right now, she hopes that people will consider shopping at small, local businesses for the holidays, because “many small businesses like mine in the handmade movement truly rely on your support and patronage to stay afloat.”

Fast Facts

Ruth Beck’s Owl & Acorn products are available in Oregon City at Wynona Studios, 719 Main St., Oregon City. Call 503-974-9193 for hours and class schedules. Her products are also available at Beck’s Farms, her family’s U-cut Christmas tree farm, 16700 S. Gerber Road, Oregon City.

Visit Beck’s Etsy site at owlandacorn.etsy.com, or visit her website for class schedules and other information at theowlandacorn.com.

Beck will also be a featured artist at the eighth annual da Vinci Arts Fair, Dec. 1 and 2 at da Vinci Arts Middle School, 2508 N.E. Everett St., in Portland.