Minnesotans get around—we have one of the highest percentages of passport holders in the country. And what we bring back are no mere objects, but portals, allowing us to return anytime. Here, nine well-traveled Minnesotans share the stories behind their favorite souvenirs.

Tina WilcoxTina Wilcox

CEO and creative director, Black: A Retail Brand Agency

When you say you collect dog collars, people think, dog collars? Really? But I just love old sterling; it has a patina. I like collars that have beautiful typography, like this Tabinet collar, dated December 15, 1838. It’s something about the kennel: “The property of Earl Talbot, the winner of the grand champion”—I’d have to clean it up to read it. I have 35 dog collars. They start in around the mid-1500s and go to the mid-1800s. I bought this one online from a broker for $5,000. I have no qualifications other than that I’m a tragically addicted shopper. I’ve walked up to people at auctions after they bought something that I wanted and offered a better deal. My home is 11,000 square feet. And there’s one room—the library—that has all these shelves. I wanted to fill them up. I have a big collection of taxidermy: a full lion, a full zebra, most of the woodland animals. I’m a big animal lover. I own three—well, actually, I have four dogs right now, because I have one on rescue—and a horse. It’s kind of like a little stampede. It’s gut-wrenching when you lose an animal. The collars are the only thing left of the dog a lot of times. It’s the evidence that this dog was living on the earth at some point in time. You know, a collar is kind of like the dog’s soul.

HabermansSarah & Fred Haberman

Co-founders of Haberman marketing agency

We had never heard of Kazakhstan. This was in 1992. We were 26. Kazakhstan had been part of the Soviet Union and the wall had just fallen, so to speak. Sarah’s father introduced us to two gentlemen here who wanted to start a business there. There were probably only 50 to 100 Westerners at that time in Almaty, the largest city in the country. There were no fax machines, and we couldn’t trust the banks, so we carried $30,000 in cash with us. Everyone handed out a lot of gifts—we’d call it bribery. Then our investors left. But we created the first office-products retail store there. We’d go to the mountains to unwind pretty much every weekend. And often we’d go camping with this guy Sergei. We didn’t have any equipment, so the first time we used these burlap sleeping bags that would only zip up to our bellybuttons. When it rained, the tent would leak. But it was gorgeous. Wild horses would run through our campsite. The wildflowers were taller than us. You’d see a yurt and a sheepherder and that’s about it. We left after eight months. Saying goodbye to Sergei was the most difficult and challenging thing we’ve ever had to do abroad. He surprised us by giving us his hat. We’ve worn it since, but mostly what we took from Sergei was how we communicated with him, through stories around the fire. Our business now is storytelling, sharing the stories of
pioneers. And that was Kazakhstan: going into the unknown, scared out of your mind.

KimonoDan Buettner


I think it’s in my DNA—I’m chronically curious. I’ve probably biked more than 120,000 miles. And now, with my Blue Zones project and as a National Geographic fellow, I travel to illuminate the human condition. Where are people doing things better than us? What lessons can we learn? Naturally, I pick up souvenirs along the way. From Okinawa, I brought back a traditional wedding kimono, which costs about $70,000 to make, is good for about 200 weddings, and is then retired. I bought it for $500 underneath a highway from a vendor. Biking through China, I stumbled across a guy who went into villages and bought 300- to 400-year-old furniture. I bought a whole shipping container of it: Ming Dynasty furniture at Ikea prices. Hiking around Lake Atitlan in Guatemala, I met this Mayan man making drawings on a 12-foot-wide scroll—absolutely exquisite. I said, half flippantly, “When you finish that, I’ll buy it.” He wrote me later: “Send $3,000 and I’ll send it to you.” With blind confidence, I did. Now, whenever I pass it in my house, I’m transported to this indescribably gorgeous lake. My whole house is landmined with memories; I can walk from one end to another and recall 13 expeditions.


Phil RobertsPhil Roberts

CEO of Parasole Restaurant Holdings

I can’t tell the difference between traveling for work or pleasure anymore. You’re in a restaurant, eating great food—are you having fun? Damn right you are. Shanghai, Hong Kong, Berlin (especially the east side)—they have a lot of grit. I love that. The Wolfgang Pucks of the world haven’t arrived yet. I’ll go to these places and have a hit list of about 25 restaurants. Sometimes it’s a bust; sometimes you get a great idea. In Argentina, I spent a lot of time in Mendoza, the base of wine country. Now, I’m a protein kind of guy; I’m not much for nuts and berries. And Argentina is the world’s biggest meat-eating culture. But it’s not just about eating meat, it’s about scale: big and ballsy and bold. They have parrillas, a grill or steakhouse, where they cook these hunks of cow on gigantic grills. You can’t tell if you’re eating testicles or tongues, brains or balls. And the scale carries over to the flavors. So it’s fitting that they use a gigantic carving knife, almost a machete, to cut the meat. About two years ago, I was at Cabaña Las Lilas, a restaurant in Buenos Aires, right on the water. There’s this primal attitude there, very lusty—it’s not embarrassing to eat with your hands. And I was watching the butchers use this enormous knife. I was so impressed with these guys whacking that meat. It was like Manny’s on steroids. After a couple bottles of Malbec, I decided to bring that knife back. In my broken Spanish, I bought it right from the restaurant. It has more to do with fantasies of being covered with blood than actually using it. I keep it in a big drawer in my kitchen. And I make sure to keep the blade covered.

Nobel Prize PhotoDr. Eric Jolly

President, Science Museum of Minnesota

In February 2009 I was invited to Brussels for a meeting of the European Union on the role of science education. The available hotel was the Metropole, the site of the first Solvay Conference in 1911. It was remarkable both for who was in attendance and for its suggestions of the future of science. Madame Curie had won her second Nobel Prize; three more attendees would get their Nobel Prizes soon, including Einstein. I noticed the room where the conference had been held and inquired about it at the desk. They had copies of the photograph taken of the attendees and I bought two prints, one for my office and one for my stepson. The photograph has so many rich storylines: the passing of the torch between scientists, the seedling of great ideas. It was a time when the public was still involved in science, even as a hobby, the days when Edison was doing demonstrations in his living room. We’re starting to see that again—a public that cares about science education.

Kaywin FeldmanKaywin Feldman

Director and president, Minneapolis Institute of Arts

This is a reliquary from probably the late 19th or early 20th century. A lot of religions use parts of the body to represent the whole, and reliquaries are often in the shape of whatever the piece of the body was. I’m assuming this would have been for part of an arm bone. Obviously, when I acquired it, the saint’s bone was long gone. I assume it is a far-removed, lesser saint, keeping in mind that there are relics literally everywhere, all over the world. You can buy saints’ relics on eBay—not that I have! There are lots to go around. When I go? I’d like to be left someplace meaningful, as long as it’s legal. I’m such a rule-follower. The idea of someone putting me where I’m not supposed to be—you’d think by that point in my life I wouldn’t care. I acquired the reliquary in 2006. I was in Mexico City with a group of museum directors, having our annual meeting. And I was looking around some stores that specialized in antiques and folk art. I remember taking it back to the hotel and running into some of my colleagues in the lobby and sort of unwrapping it and saying, “Look what I found!” None of them were that impressed or running out to get one for themselves. In my living room, I have a Blu Dot shelf that’s filled with body parts: the reliquary and Brazilian ex-votos—carved body parts. Someone who breaks their leg will buy it in the street from a craftsman, very inexpensive, and leave it in a church in the hopes of healing. You’ll find stomachs, breasts, arms, legs, heads. Nobody has ever said a word about the fact that I have this collection.


Coral Necklace & EarringsLyndel King

Director, Weisman Art Museum

This is a coral necklace and some coral earrings. I got them in St. Petersburg, in Russia. This was after the breakup of the Soviet Union, so things had changed a lot in terms of what was available to buy. I made my first trip in 1976, so I know what there is in that part of the world: the hand-knit, ethnic-looking Russian stockings and mittens and fur hats. I’d been through all of those things. They had just opened some big department stores in St. Petersburg, and on my last day I decided I was going to buy this. They put them in, like, a plastic grocery bag. They hadn’t gotten to the packaging part of retail yet. I was walking back to the hotel, and I felt something bumping me in the back. I turned around and there was this guy in a leather jacket. I hit him with my purse, went down through an underpass, and could feel something still going on behind me. I looked and there were two guys now in leather jackets. I started to run. It was a very crowded street. But these guys were so brazen—they chased me for two blocks, until I ran into the hotel. Then I realized what they were after: I had my video camera in the pocket of my coat and I had the strap around my wrist. Well, they had cut the strap. High noon on the busiest street in St. Petersburg and nobody had said or done anything! It really made me sad to think, this is the new Russia.

Beth BrillBeth Brill

Vice president of the Moscoe Group

I’ve been selling products to Target for 21 years, primarily home décor. Much of it is made in Asia, of course, and my first trip to China 21 years ago was for a meeting with Target. At that time, Target didn’t go into mainland China. So I’d land in Hong Kong, go over to the mainland to get products, and carry them back to a hotel in Hong Kong to meet with Target. A couple of years later, we started going to the mainland on factory tours. That was a big deal. They’d put a huge banner across the entrance: “Welcome, Target!” One time we were greeted by a full marching band. Another time, I accidentally left the free-trade zone and got stuck at a ferry station without a visa for mainland China. I had to sign a statement without knowing what it said and pay the customs manager a lot of money. Anyway, I got pretty good at adding vacations to these trips, and a couple of years ago I met up with my son, who had been traveling around the world, in Bhutan. This is the country where the most important measure is the Gross Happiness Product. Tourism is limited by design: there were really only two nice hotels. Bhutan Airlines only had two planes. There are 13 crafts indigenous to their culture and one of them is making singing bowls: rounded brass bowls with intricate graphics used in meditation and cultural events. Rub the top and eventually you’ll hear a rich tone. Each one has a unique sound. I bought one for myself and another for my son. That’s what I love about travel: the actual travel is grueling, but learning other ways of life is fascinating. We don’t have all the answers here.

Jane ConferJane Confer

Board member of the Minnesota Opera and Guthrie Theater

This year, I’ll visit my 80th country. My husband, Ogden, and I have a special affinity for Southeast Asia. We started collecting antiques from there. We have a carved lintel that was over a doorway in the Forbidden City. We have Buddhas from Myanmar, China, Vietnam, and Cambodia. When we first bought our Minneapolis condo 13 years ago, we had a lot of French antiques. But Asian artwork is so peaceful—it really has a calming, peaceful synergy to it—and when you’re living in the heart of a city, that’s a wonderful thing. This Buddha statue was purchased in Cambodia in 2008. It’s about six-and-a-half-feet tall, made from a piece of rosewood that’s a couple hundred years old, and sits in our family room, facing Orchestra Hall. The artist was swept up in the Pol Pot genocide of the 1970s, in which 90 percent of the artisans in Cambodia were murdered. Our artist survived by working his way up the northern border to Laos, where a couple of pig farmers took him in. He’s a direct descendent of the carvers who worked on Angkor Wat and some of the same sculptural representations you’ll see at Angkor Wat, are found on this Buddha. He returned to Cambodia after Pol Pot left power, married, and has three children, to whom he’s teaching his trade. They all did some work on this piece. The pose is called “bringing down the rain.” It means renewal, rebirth—life coming back after the dead season.