By Mariah Beckman
When your average mother opens her junk drawer, the havoc of safety pins, odd buttons and nearly-spent spools of string looks like something on the spring cleaning to-do list. However, when Darcy and Richard Ryan (R.R.) Anderson spy such a hodge podge, they see infinite opportunities for creativity.
The couple’s downtown shop, Tinkertopia, has been sourcing upcycled materials into Captain Planet-approved arts and crafts since July 17, 2013. The storefront is one of many in a four-block spread of shops that flank Pacific Avenue. Located on the University of Washington Tacoma campus, the venture has become a refuge for the forgotten artifacts of miscellany that would otherwise have gone to the city’s landfills.
The idea of an art supply store with thrift shop undertones isn’t an entirely a new concept, R.R explains. “We thought we could start up something similar to the Creation Station in Lynwood, whose owners were retiring. Darcy and I knew a store like that would blow the minds of people in South Puget Sound if we made it a more experienced-based, curiosity-shop-meets-Boeing-surplus store meets Archie McPhees, but with handcrafted cartoon themes.”
Tinkertopia sells art supplies by the bit or in bulk. Piecemeal items like floppy discs, random keys, game pieces and yarn are only a few of the dozens of items that budding creatives can stuff into boutique brown paper bags. Such goodies sell for the bulk price of $6.95 (for a small), $9.95 (for a large) or $19.95 (for a humongous bag), and the Creative Reuse Specialists encourage stuffing each bag to the brim. There are plenty of other items to suit nearly any interest: watch dials and cogs, jewelry, mannequin limbs, well-loved typewriters and all manner of containers, paints, clay and drawing utensils, to name a few. Rare and antique items are priced as marked, and there are plenty of those to marvel at, too.
If the items themselves don’t delight the imagination, the Andersons’ unmatched creativity most certainly will. Handcrafted artwork trims the walls, punctuated by Darcy’s knit cupcakes and amigurumi. R.R.’s sculptures and artwork dress the windows and signage in the store, lending a whimsy and romance to what might otherwise be called refuse. “We had a vision for this crazy “Pee-Wee’s Play House” meets the educational/nostalgic veneer of “Reading Rainbow,” he explains. “We painted our walls sky blue and hung up puffy idea cartoon thought clouds.”
For those who need a nudge to get their creative juices flowing, this enterprising duo has the answer. The Tinkerspace, a semi-private art studio that is designed to equip hands with tools and minds with inspiration, can be reserved for 90 minutes for the princely sum of $7. The studio has also been known to host group Tinkerings at area schools and libraries, and rents out their workshop for birthday parties and events at a group rate that includes one-on-one instruction and artistic supervision.
The shop got its start thanks to Spaceworks, an initiative developed by the Tacoma-Pierce County Chamber to help vitalize the downtown scene. Since 2010, the Spaceworks program has fostered 48 creative enterprises in Tacoma. R.R. explains that the organization has played an important role in Tinketopia’s success. “Spaceworks helps you test out an idea, points out areas of your business plan that needs more thought and provides a space to experiment before things get too serious and stressful with a long-term lease. You have access to marketing workshops, business advice and network of other artsy entrepreneur types,” he says. “Ms. Darcy and I have invented two full-time, self-sustaining, living-wage jobs for ourselves thanks to SpaceWorks Tacoma.”
Tinkertopia celebrated its second anniversary this year, and as it moves into its third, it is already ramping up for tremendous growth. “July has been our busiest month to date,” says R.R. “We’ve been hard at work developing many partnerships [with] all our neighboring museums — the art museum, history museum and car museum — the boys and girls club, girl scouts, the YMCA, Pierce County Library, Tacoma Public Library, Tacoma Rescue Mission, and this month we’ve been busy with summer camp field trips.”
When the duo isn’t busy cultivating community partnerships, fostering earth-wise consumerism and kindling the muse for Tacoma’s budding youth, they are occupied with being two of the most fascinating people anyone could hope to meet
Darcy is a pre-k teacher with over a decade of experience in education and a background in art and Montessori education. The dainty brunette is soft-spoken, enthusiastic and loves to laugh. Anderson says that the inspiration to open a creativity emporium arose in part because his wife was hungry for new challenges. “Ms. Darcy is mostly human,” says R.R., “but I’m sure somewhere in her lineage in a union between mortal and goddess. Maybe that’s how she tolerates the mischief of her cartoonist husband.”
“She is the hardest working person I know,” he continues. “Great arctic oceans of integrity. Accounting wiz. A true diplomat. A talented performer and puppeteer.” In 2014, Darcy was nominated for the Foundation of Art Award by the Greater Tacoma Community Foundation. That same year, Tinkertopia won the Schoenfeld Award in the annual Tacoma-Pierce County Community Chamber New Tacoma Awards.
As for R.R. himself, he is an author with a background in web design and animation. He loves his city and is active in the Cartoonist League of Absurd Washingtonians (or the CLAW, as it were). In 2010, Anderson says he and his wife were looking for a change of pace. “I was a freshly laid-off graphic designer of a recent shipwrecked design firm [ and Darcy and I] saw a light in the darkness in the form of a call-to-artists appeal for applications to the Spaceworks Tacoma creative enterprise program. When our application was accepted, we moved forward with fire in our eyes, tornadoes in our bellies.”
Of all their creative endeavors, the Andersons are most proud of Tinkertopia. Diverting waste, inspiring minds young and old, and — perhaps most importantly— fostering a fresh face for the Gritty City is just a sample of the good that this Spaceworks enterprise has accomplished so far.
To join the resistance and become part of a wonderfully creative community, visit Tinkertopia at 1914 Pacific Avenue, Tacoma, WA 98402. Questions? Need help navigating the online events calendar? Want to make a reservation at the Tinkerspace? Wondering if Tinkertopia can repurpose any of your family’s wayward rubbish? Give the team a jingle at 253-778-6539 for more information.