A woman in a black sweatshirt reading "Arrow Creative Reuse" stands in front of shelves of art supplies
Re Baker in front of donated National Geographic magazines used for collages. (Photo: Mary Ellen Chiles)

Re Baker collected art supplies on her doorstep for five years before she understood why.

“I think being an art teacher’s daughter kind of geared me up for being an art supply purveyor,” she said with a laugh.

After visiting ScrapsKC last year she knew what to do with her collection. ScrapsKC offers donated art supplies at deep discounts and offers workshops and craft kits. Baker volunteered there for a few days to find out more.

“I saw that the idea was doable. I really wanted to bring it to Springfield, because we just don’t have anything like this,” she said.

Back in Springfield she worked at the Habitat for Humanity ReStore, but wanted to try something different.

“I saw what was coming into Habitat as donations and they don’t accept art and craft materials. So, I was like, ‘Where do those go?’”

Baker started Arrow Creative Reuse in December 2022 to keep those art supplies out of the trash and in the hands of aspiring artists. She started the nonprofit on a minuscule budget — $2,000. She is the only employee, though the store welcomes volunteers.

“The idea behind this is to keep as much usable material out of the landfill as possible,” Baker said. “We have an environmental calling to do that and to recycle as much as we can. If we can’t use something, we donate it to another thrift store. But we try really hard not to throw things away.”

The store is filled with pencils, paintbrushes, art books, fabric and yarn, and smells faintly of crayons. Customers can buy materials for their own projects or take classes at Arrow for a small fee.

“We lost the National Art Shop about a year ago and we’re trying to fill a hole in a way — but we’re not buying new things,” Baker said. “We’re relying on what the community already has.”

Turning donations into art

Baker recently visited an estate sale in the Ozarks and noticed a collection of slides wasn’t selling. When she found out they would be tossed in the landfill, Baker asked for the donation.

“They got a tax break for that, so it’s a win-win altogether,” she said.

Baker offers workshops based on the art supplies in stock. She uses the revenue to pay teachers. Recently, the Woodland Heights Neighborhood Association donated mini-frames, and she used the slides and vellum to offer a lantern-making class.

“A lot of people have come in and have been so inspired because of a material that they couldn’t find somewhere else,” Baker said. “Our donors have been just as excited to donate as people are to buy it.”

A shelf filled with glue bottles
Arrow takes those half-used bottles of Elmer’s glue you still have. (Photo: Mary Ellen Chiles)

‘Off-the-wall’ art classes

Lillian Fitzpatrick, an artist based in Highlandville, teaches art media, enamel, screenprinting and other classes at the Springfield Art Museum. She offers less traditional workshops here.

“At Arrow it’s like, ‘Let’s just try something totally off-the-wall,’” Fitzpatrick said.

For example, she showed students how to apply gold overglaze to ceramic pieces. They could add phrases or words. She donated one of her works back to Arrow. It’s an ornate oval plate that features a depiction of The Last Supper and Fitzpatrick’s words: “Does anybody have money for the pizza guy?”

It’s available in the gift shop.

Fitzpatrick donated gold overglaze, but usually supplies come from the shop. Still, it was important to Baker to pay the instructors.

“At first, we weren’t paying teachers,” Baker said. “They would volunteer their time and we would supply the materials. But I couldn’t really fathom not paying them.”

Two strange-looking stuffed "birds"
A recent popular class was “Bad Taxidermy,” in which students created animals they imagined. (Photo: Mary Ellen Chiles)

Providing a third place for the community

Baker is grateful for volunteers, who help sort and organize art supplies, and has discovered the shop has become a comfortable spot for all types.

“A lot of our volunteers are trans people, and I’ve been told that this feels like a safe space. So, that’s really something I’m proud of.”

Baker, coincidentally, is non-binary and uses the pronouns she/they.

All are welcome and volunteers receive 20% off anything they buy on the day they work. Re’s mother, Sandi Green-Baker, acts as a whimsical queen bee as she organizes volunteers and teaches workshops. Sandi taught art in Rogersville, Gainesville and Highlandville for 38 years.

One of her classes demonstrates how to make crankies, which she describes as “a moving panoramic storytelling machine.”

“Like I said, they’re not traditional art classes,” she added.

She provides hospitality, too.

Jenny Green (no relation), an artist and art teacher at Marshfield High School, recalls her first visit to Arrow. She sat down to look at some paint stored on a low shelf.

“The next thing I know, Sandi Green-Baker came in and sat down on the floor with me and gave me a cup of coffee,” Green said.

They chatted about art for an hour and a half, and Green left with the feeling that the potential for community set the store apart.

“It’s a gathering place,” she said. “The amazing thing is that when you shop there, you end up finding your tribe.”

Sher’s not the only teacher to find her way to Arrow. This spring the Missouri Art Education Association held a conference in Springfield for 300 teachers; 120 visited the shop.

“I thought they were going to clean this out, but they ended up donating supplies, too,” Baker said. “They took new supplies to their schools and gave us supplies that they were no longer using. It was this circular economy that was beautiful.”

Two people stand at a table sorting arts and crafts supplies
Re Baker and Sandi Green-Baker sort supplies. (Photo: Mary Ellen Chiles)

A most unusual gift shop

You can’t exit through the gift shop, but you will want to visit. It’s where obscure items land, like a moccasin kit and a wooden rocking horse that could use a bit of paint.

“Everything that is kind of odd ends up here,” Baker said. “It’s really fun and it changes often. It’s like, ‘Oh, I need a birthday present really quick.’”

Baker also keeps fine art materials in this room. Some donated supplies arrive gently used — like when someone buys a box of gel pens, only uses one color and doesn’t know what to do with the rest. Others haven’t been touched.

“It’s humbling, getting in a really nice set of watercolor pencils that someone can use,” Baker said. “I am just so excited when fine art materials come in. That’s what we’re here for, so artists are able to pursue their work or hobby at a lower cost.”

How to donate

The store has a donation processing room where every item is recorded and weighed. That way Baker can show how many pounds of supplies Arrow has kept out of the landfill, and eventually apply for a Department of Natural Resources Grant. Amber Gillenwaters helps Baker with data entry, IT and grant writing.

Baker asks donors to email her about possible donations, which should be new or gently used.

“The challenge is, ‘Can we sell those? Or, can we make something out of those?’” she said.

Alas, you’ve missed your chance to donate your old National Geographic collection. The store already has plenty and the familiar yellow magazines are labeled as “collage supplies.”

But, Arrow offers a collection of donated art books like “The Essential Guide to Paint & Color” and “Victorian Alphabets.” Baker received “The Making of The Dark Crystal,” based on the 1982 Jim Henson film, this spring.

“I was like, ‘I’ll just put this on the shelf.’ And I took a picture of it for social media and just got this wild response,” she said. “We laugh about it with people coming in, like, ‘You may not find what you’re looking for. But you’ll definitely find something you’re not looking for.’”

Arrow Creative Reuse is open 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, and Wednesdays by appointment only. The store is located at 1506 E. St. Louis Street, with parking available in the back.

Two hands holding a handmade lantern
A lantern made with donated mini-frames, vellum, and slides. (Photo: Mary Ellen Chiles)

Mary Ellen Chiles

Mary Ellen Chiles is a freelance photographer and writer based in the Ozarks. She graduated from Missouri State University with a bachelor’s in creative writing and a master’s in English, Creative Nonfiction Writing. More by Mary Ellen Chiles