Inspired Hands

Local artisans use their hands to create and to affect change in the community.

From beer brewers to violin bow makers, St. Louis Park’s unique hub of craftspeople participate in trades that fall on a spectrum from hobbies to life-changing careers. These artisans often have uncommon advice to share with the community about their specific skills. Potter Jen Noetzli puts it this way: “I think we all spend so much time in front of computers and phones, now more than ever it’s important to meet with people face to face and work with your hands.” The relational and physical aspects of these artisans’ skills are great reminders of the benefits of using your hands for work and design.

Jen Noetzli, Potter

Jen Noetzli’s love for pottery began at 6 years of age when she took her first class. After moving back to the Twin Cities from New England 12 years ago, Noetzli used her free time to take pottery classes through community education. “The pottery teacher eventually asked if I wanted to start teaching the class,” Noetzli says.

“I was just the student, so that was a huge jump for me.” That was seven years ago; now Noetzli has fully embraced her role as a pottery instructor, while working as an acupuncturist full time. “I feel like I have the best students ever,” Noetzli says. “In these classes you’re developing relationships with people you wouldn’t come across in daily life, and they have become good friends of mine.”

Apart from the unique relational aspect of community education, Noetzli’s role as a teacher goes deeper than teaching how to make dishes. “Working with clay is meditative; you’re working with the ground, so it’s literally grounding,” she says. “I love the idea of making something with my hands that somebody else is going to use with their hands.” Noetzli’s favorite thing to craft? Bowls. You can find some of her pieces for sale at Digs in Minneapolis.

Leslie Granbeck, Fiber Artist and Felt Maker

One of the early members of the Minnesota Feltmakers Guild, Leslie Granbeck has had an appreciation for textiles from a young age.
 
“My mother was a voracious knitter,” she says; “I grew up around yarn and wool.” After nearly 20 years making beaded jewelry, Granbeck took a felting class and found herself hooked: “I transitioned into strictly felt-making; I taught myself how to make felted beads at my kitchen sink.” She now teaches all over the Twin Cities, including through St. Louis Park Community Education.

Granbeck finds it surprises her students how physical felt-making truly is. “Anybody can do it as long as you have some physical stamina,” Granbeck says. “The ingredients are simple: wool, water, soap and your own muscles.” Although the process is physical, Granbeck adds that it’s not taxing. “It’s a process—you start with a pile of sheep’s wool and end with a garment,” Granbeck shares. “The wool fibers transform from something from a sheep into a beautiful handbag or a supple, warm scarf, and the transformation is magic.” For most of her classes, students will create a finished product within one session. “You mean I can make a pair of slippers in one day? Yeah, you can!” Granbeck exclaims.

Tina Ludlow, Quilter and Sewer

St. Louis Park resident Tina Ludlow found her spark as an artisan while studying engineering in college. “I read about quilt-making in college and started experimenting with a sewing machine in the dorm,” Ludlow says. “I used to be an engineer, and having quilt making on the side was something very different to do, while still involving quite a bit of math.” With a love for the creativity of her craft, Ludlow explains, “It’s a project that may or not get finished, but you get to learn a new skill.” She continues, “These skills get lost over the years, so it’s great to use historical methods on more modern items.”

Using her skill as a quilter to create quilts and clothing for her family, Ludlow also donates homemade baby items, such as snowsuits and footie pajamas, to Bundles of Love (bundlesoflove.org), an organization providing baby items to Minnesota families in need. And while many assume sewing is mainly for adults, Ludlow says, “I’d like people to know that sewing is not a one-off hobby that adults with special abilities can do—kids can do it, too.”

Blake Verdon, LTD Brewing Co-Owner

What began as two University of Minnesota college students’ attempt to gain easy access to beer ended up as Blake Verdon and his business partner Jeremy Hale’s multi-year effort to open a brewery. After a tour of Town Hall Brewery on his 21st birthday, Verdon gained a new appreciation for the craft. With Hale’s strong background in the sciences and math and Verdon’s experience in corporate marketing, the two teamed up to take home-brewing to the next level. They took a trip to Denver to look at breweries with a similar business model, and eventually built LTD Brewing in Hopkins. A sked what he finds most rewarding about his trade, Verdon responds, “It’s definitely when your brew hits the taproom; someone will come up to you and say ‘This is one of my favorite beers of all time.’ That’s what drives you.”  

Verdon’s personal favorite beer? “Probably Sleepwalker triple IPA,” he says, “knowing how much time it takes to produce it and how long it took to get it right.” With the beers on tap rotating regularly, Verdon attests, “We are going to give you a gamut of experiences.” He continues, “We try to expose people to everything there is to offer in the realm of beer; it’s all about the experience.”

Neal Kielar, MidModMen+friends Co-Owner

Faced with the task of furnishing a modern house after moving to Golden Valley, Neal Kielar and business partner Jon Mehus began buying and restoring vintage modern furnishings. “We bought furniture to restore ourselves, and sometimes it didn’t work out, so we would sell it,” Kielar says. “It snowballed: we were finding more things, our eyes were getting wider and things were expanding so we decided to turn it into a business.” The storefront for their business, MidModMen, opened in 2012 in St. Paul.
 
“Bringing furniture back to life and finding a home for it with someone who really appreciates it is what I find most rewarding,” Kielar says. The team acquires pieces in a variety of ways, even at times an item or two is dropped off at their front door. Mehus and collaborators then refinish the items and  bring them to the store, where Kielar will creatively market the items for customers. “Ninety percent of our inventory is old,” Kielar says, “though people will come in and ask if everything is new because of the condition it’s in.” With pieces that are well-built and ready to use, MidModMen focuses on quality.

This month, the partners have the opportunity to take their wares to the American Craft Show in St. Paul (St. Paul RiverCentre, April 7-9), which features artists and makers from all over the country. Kielar and Mehus will design a specific decade-themed room that will be part of the show. “I have vowed to do it in a way that people don’t expect,” Kielar says. “We are really honored to be a part of it, and I’m not taking it lightly.”

Jeff Anderson, Luthier and Bow Maker at House of Note

During the day, you can find Jeff Anderson at the House of Note violin shop in St. Louis Park, working away on an instrument or bow repair. “I got started 20 years ago attending school in Red Wing to learn how to build guitars,” Anderson shares. “I enjoyed it so much I went on to the second year of school, which was about repairing violins. I fell in love with the workmanship and tradition—everything that goes into making an instrument.” He has been at the House of Note, owned by Ed Volker, for 18 years and spends his evenings creating bows to sell in the shop. Using Brazilian Pernambuco wood, ebony, silver, and horse hair, Anderson creates bows to the musician’s specific liking. “Everybody likes it a little bit different,” Anderson says. “Some people want it a little tighter, some people like different amounts of rosin, and these changes affect the sound and playability of the violin.”

A musician himself, Anderson plays the cello and mandolin, with his main instrument being the guitar. Anderson’s love for bow making and repairs goes beyond a passion for instruments. “I really enjoy working with people,” he says, adding that he has done repairs for beginners as well as concert musicians. “There is an instrument and bow for everyone; they are all unique, and it is important to try a variety of them to see what you do andand don’t like.”