The New Traditionalists
The back-to-basics movement ranges from food to fashion to art, with one thing in common: taking up old trades to forge a new lifestyle
Hans Early-Nelson and Heather Doyle
Yes, they have anvils. You need them to bend fire and metal to your will, an ancient art making a comeback. Doyle, 39, opened the Chicago Avenue Fire Arts Center in south Minneapolis a couple of years ago, for the practice and teaching of sculptural welding, blacksmithing, jewelry-making—the incendiary arts. From his Longfellow studio, Primitive Precision, 29-year-old Early-Nelson makes architectural fixtures, public art (like the benches outside the new mother-baby center at Abbott Northwestern Hospital), and accessories like belt buckles and money clips available at I Like You and other boutiques. “The handy trades are coming back out of necessity,” he says. “People are fed up with things that break easily.”
It’s hard to tell where the sawdust ends and McGlasson begins. The 46-year-old carpenter has been covered head to toe for the past half-dozen years, having forsaken a career in education for woodworking. Always interested in “creating cool spaces,” his two-man Woodsport business in St. Paul specializes in modern-but-classic-looking furniture built from carefully selected hardwoods: sturdy stools with thick rounded legs, credenzas with gorgeously rippled drawer fronts. His work has been shown at the Walker and he’ll show it in April at the Smithsonian, suggesting a kind of museum-worthy timelessness, though success, he says, still surprises him: “I have to pinch myself.”
Alex Liebman, Klaus Zimmerman Mayo, Emily Hanson, and Robin Major
They till and sow and weed and pick as Stone’s Throw Farm, an apt moniker: they’re growing food as close as possible to the people eating it. Liebman, Major, and Hanson were Macalester College grads in 2011, interested in farming but not in fleeing the city. So they rented vacant lots and started turning up the dirt. Last year, having integrated with other urban farmers to form Stone’s Throw, they grew vegetables on 16 plots in Minneapolis and St. Paul, selling at farmers’ markets and directly to 72 CSA members (sign up at stonesthrowurbanfarm.com). “We’re never going to feed everyone in a city,” says Hanson. “But we like refuting the urban mentality that food always comes from somewhere else.”
Lacey Prpic Hedtke
Darkrooms, of the chemical kind, are disappearing. But Hedtke just built one in her basement, and not for the kind of film you once sent to Target. A librarian at the Science Museum of Minnesota, Hedtke, 32, was recently commissioned by the Minneapolis Institute of Arts to photograph its collection using 12 antique processes, from cyanotypes to tintypes. On March 5, as part of the Minnesota Historical Society’s History of Hip series, she’ll talk at the Turf Club about Civil War-era spirit photography, in which the subject appeared beside a ghostly image of a deceased relative. “It’s magical,” she says of the craft. “I like being connected to people in the 19th century through the process. Plus, it’s mechanical: I once fixed my camera with a hammer.”
Mike Ader, a 30-year-old self-described “picker, hoarder, collector,” is often up at 4 a.m. on Friday mornings, queuing up outside estate sales, and first thought about opening a store after acquiring some 300 Pendleton shirts during college. Last December he did: MidNorth Mercantile in the North Loop, where, amid old steamer trunks and factory dollies, he sells high-quality vintage American menswear and workwear, like Navy peacoats, Red Wing boots, Faribault coats, Pendleton shirts, and more stuff “your dad and grandfather wore.” In the rear, he practices his real trade: old-school barbering, from haircuts to straight-razor shaves, under the gaze of a robust buck.
By day, the mohawk-sporting 43-year-old works as an analyst for Target. By night, he dreams of food. He grew up near Little Italy, in New York, fueled by the neighborhood’s famous cuisine, and has spent the rest of his life recreating those memories. He became a baker after moving to Minneapolis. He makes cheeses at home. And this spring he’s set to open City Food Studio in south Minneapolis, where culinary entrepreneurs—like Ben Solberg of FrozBroz craft ice cream (in plaid), Margaret Chamberlain of Bread Star Rising, and tempeh maker Ryan Billig (in glasses) of Tempeh Betjak—can rent space to concoct and sell their wares. “Getting back to doing things yourself,” Gosselin says, envisioning a small retail area, cooking classes, and, of course, a cheese cave in the basement.
Roe Family Singers
“When we got married, Kim said we should start a band,” says Quillan Roe (with banjo) of his wife (with autoharp). “I thought that was the worst idea ever—look at Ike and Tina.” He’s changed his mind. Their band, which folds as many as 10 musicians and a clogger into a warm stew of guitar, mandolin, autoharp, fiddle, and saw (of the bendy non-chain variety), has held down Monday nights at the 331 Club in Minneapolis for eight years. Now their two young daughters are often in tow—a true family band, fulfilling a sense of community that comes with the music of barn-raising pioneers. Not that Quillan is stuck in the past. The Roes live in Plymouth. And it matters less where they are than if they’re together. “When I sing without Kim, it doesn’t sound right. Our voices in my head are one voice now.”
“I’ve had good luck with horses,” Johnson says, meaning the one-ton Belgians he uses to pull trees out of the woods. It’s an eco-friendly approach once practiced by his forebears (he’s a fifth-generation logger) before being abandoned for machinery. At 38, he’s reviving it from his home near Hayward, in western Wisconsin, and will make anything you want out of the wood: flooring, firewood. It’s dangerous work—he once sliced his arm on a hatchet and used his suspenders as a tourniquet. But the horses often trump machinery. Working alongside a couple of skid loaders on one job, “I smoked them so bad they were mad about it,” he says. “It’s not just about nostalgia.”
Luisa Fernanda Garcia-Gomez and Crystal Quinn
They’re artists, first of all, used to confronting empty canvases with nothing but ideas. Quinn, 29, and Garcia-Gomez, 32, met at a drawing class and in 2010 opened Ina Grau, their studio in the Calhoun Building at Lyn-Lake. There, with contraptions no bigger than a sewing machine, they make shoes from scratch: oxfords with bold zigzags and colorful lines and now a series of shoes made collaboratively with artisans in Garcia-Gomez’s native Colombia. They sell by appointment or by custom order and will soon open an online store at inagrau.com. “We don’t know where to stop,” says Garcia-Gomez. “When we want something, we work to get it.”