The New Old School

Young people, old trades. Here, we hear a little more from our “new traditionalists” and get a behind-the-scenes look at their photo shoots.

* Read “The New Traditionalists” for more about the back-to-basics movement.

Quillan Roe of the Roe Family Singers

I started with the saxophone and cello and then piano for about six years. The cello was the biggest disappointment—I thought it was an upright bass.

When I was 14, my parents got me guitar lessons. My best friend started playing guitar and he always got the girls. And I said, you know what, if it works for him it may work for me. That was the thing I practiced without needing to be reminded. Then I started singing in a heavy metal punk rock band. I couldn’t even tell you why they asked me. So I had my first performance I was 15 or 16 and I knew I didn’t want to go back. I wanted to be a musician.

Kim and I met working in St. Louis Park at a before-and-after-school program and started dating. Kim introduced me to karaoke, she just loved it, she’d go out with her friends. She’d never tell you this, but she’s won some contests. When we got married she said we should start a band. I thought that was the worst idea ever—look at Ike and Tina.

We got a call in September of 2003 when June Carter and Johnny Cash both died. I’d been in a band, and Lee’s Liquor Lounge asked if I could play at their tribute to June and Johnny. I asked Kim, “Do you still want to start a band.” She said, “Yeah!”

That set the stage for the kind of music we’d do. Traditional music resonated from my heart. I started understanding what I’d always understood as a drawback of partners working together. This past year, we did over 220 shows and there’s no way I could do it with the old band, having a girlfriend on the side. We’ve got two little girls, two toddlers, who go on the road with us. If they can come to shows, we want them to be a part of what mommy and daddy’s work is.

If there’s a show when Kim can’t make it, if she’s sick or whatever, it doesn’t sound right to me. Our voices in my head now are one voice. It speaks to something bigger or deeper. I definitely think it’s good for our relationship, rather than the other way around.

Hans Early-Nelson, blacksmith/metalworker

My interest in mechanics began as a kid, with an interest in how things worked and the disassembly of various common household things: washers, dryers, VCRs. My grandfather was inventor/engineer and got my brain thinking a certain way. My father was a sculptor for the early part of his life then switched to building boats. I helped him build quite a few wooden boats over the years and picked up an interest in metal from him. He’d take large found objects and juxtapose them in a certain way. By age 10, I was stick-welding things together.

In high school, I went to Germany for a youth exchange program, where I worked with a wood-furniture maker and a blacksmith. That got me thinking about the things I could do as a career. Upon returning from Germany, I attended welding classes at Dunwoody and learned about machining and working with sheet-metal.

For the past six or seven years, I’ve been on my own, fabricating hand-rails, sculptures, furniture, and jewelry. Doing a lot of experimentation. I’m over in the Longfellow neighborhood in a former Shasta bottling plant built in 1948—a sweet old building across from Brackett Park. 

I’m always looking to stay versatile. I’m as happy doing custom interior and exterior architectural fixtures as abstract sculptural work. Recently, I’ve been working with artists like Randy Walker and Cheryl Tuorila on large public art. I made some benches from stainless-steel frames that Cheryl wrapped in tile—they’ll go in front of the new mother-baby center at Abbott-Northwestern Hospital.

I call my company Primitive Precision because I enjoy juxtaposing the two concepts. I consider myself a blacksmith and a metalsmith who does welding and machining—a modern mechanic who can accommodate repairs of old vintage furniture, lamps, cars, and motorcycles. But I also make jewelry and accessories, things like belt buckles, money clips, and bottle openers. You can find them on Etsy and at boutiques such as I Like You and Gallery 360.

I’m inspired seeing other people being resourceful. Go on Etsy and you’ll see endless inspiration and motivation. There’s a big DIY culture that’s come back. The handy trades are coming back out of necessity: people are fed up with things that break easily.

Emily Hanson of Stone’s Throw Farm

In the winter of 2010-2011, there were several of us facing graduation from Macalester and interested in farming. We wanted to start our own farm. So that year we formed the Concrete Beet Farmers. Spent a year on that, got some money from Mac, made it through the season.

That fall of 2011 we were talking with other urban farmers and found out what they had been doing—sharing resources—and decided we could make a better go if we combined forces. Found land, pooled land, and founded Stone’s Throw that same fall. Last year was our first season. We grew veggies on 16 different plots in Minneapolis, Frogtown and other neighborhoods of St. Paul. We had 72 members in our CSA, sold at two farmer’s markets, and also some restaurants.

Why farm in the city? We all live here. We really like a lot of things about living in the city, saw all the vacant land in the neighborhood and around the city, and knew we wanted to farm but weren’t ready to move out of the city. I don’t think we would have been ready to move to a rural area and start a farm on our own. We don’t want to stay in the city forever. There are a lot of challenges: limited space, it’s very expensive, we have to be rather transient. But there a lot of joys like being very close to the people we’re growing for. It’s a very social way to farm.

Taking on some new land is the biggest challenge for urban farming. Land in the city is valued for modern urban things like commercial development not agriculture. There’s never going to be a day when food is valued as highly as development. But we see it as a necessity. We’re really trying to pave the way and do this in the city now, so we can have the systems more when we need it.

* Read “The New Traditionalists” for more about the back-to-basics movement.