Twin Cities Style Makers

Twin Cities Style Makers

Published on Wednesday, March 21, 2012.
Style Maker Yin (Patricia) Simpson

Style Maker Yin (Patricia) Simpson; Necklace, Seung-Hea Lee; Photo: Jake Armour

Jake Armour

With its vibrant arts community and thriving creative culture, it’s not surprising we identified many in the Twin Cities who live a life filled with beautiful, handmade objects.

This extraordinary group joins those from two of our other show cities, Baltimore and Atlanta, as the American Craft Council’s Style Makers. These are people who have made a commitment to the handmade as makers, collectors, devotees, and patrons. They are people who don’t just appreciate one-of-a-kind from a distance, but live it and celebrate it, people who express themselves artistically and display their personal style through objects they treasure and sometimes make themselves.

In an area where craft is so deeply woven into the region’s character, we had hard choices to make about where to photograph our Style Makers. In the end, three spots rose to the top: the Historic Studio, Northern Clay Center, and the Weavers Guild of Minnesota. Thank you to these places and all of the talented ACC artists who made this project possible.

Kelly Gage, assistant professor of apparel design at St. Catherine University and board member at the World Childhood Foundation and the Carlson Family Foundation, was taught to buy pieces that last. “I buy classic pieces with quality construction, but also pieces with some unique feature,” she says. Gage’s work with the World Childhood Foundation requires travel to Brazil. “I appreciate the cut of Brazilian clothing and that what I buy there can’t be purchased anywhere else,” she says. Gage attended the American Craft Council St. Paul Show last year and is hoping this year to buy a Judith Kinghorn Chrysanthemum brooch. “My husband is already nervous,” she laughs.

Yin (Patricia) Simpson, fashion designer and stylist, is a member of the Minneapolis Institute of Arts Collection in Focus program, which concentrates on Bruce and Ruth Dayton’s Chinese collection; she also has been active in planning MIA’s Art in Bloom program. Driven by her heritage, Simpson is especially interested in Chinese history and culture, and owned a Minneapolis boutique specializing in Chinese arts, jewelry, and fabrics. Simpson is a connoisseur of quality textiles and is overjoyed when she finds something special. Friends describe her as graceful and elegant, inside and out – a classic beauty whose style is timeless.

Jahna Peloquin is a Minneapolis-based freelance writer, stylist, and blogger. She’s a contributing writer and stylist for the Star Tribune’s arts and entertainment publication and fashion editor for the online magazine l’étoile. Peloquin says her interest in fashion began with her teenage obsession with music, art, and film. With a self-described “polished and coquettish” sense of style, sources of inspiration include movies like Pretty in Pink and Breakfast at Tiffany’s. “I mostly avoid style blogs, preferring to take inspiration from unusual, less obvious places: a movie or book character, a painting, iconic women in history, or sometimes purely from a garment or accessory I love.” For Peloquin, there’s something romantic and special about wearing something one-of-a-kind and handmade.

Robb Whittlef, president and founder of Historic Studio and a former HGTV personality, has a style he describes as edited, tactile, grounded, and soulful. Whittlef’s style choices are guided by his appreciation for objects that reflect ingenuity and a sense of what’s real – “You can’t fake authenticity,” he says. Whittlef channels his inventiveness by paying attention to the world around him. He believes inspiration can come from anywhere – a walk on the beach or a student art sale at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design. Whittlef has been a follower of the American Craft Council shows for more than 15 years. “They give people an option other than big-box retail. I believe your home should reflect the person who lives there. ACC allows people to manifest that.”

Uri and Melissa Camarena, co-owners of SOMOS gallery, believe in feeling good, whatever your style. “I don’t think about style, but I know what I like,” Uri says. “My style comes from putting on whatever is comfortable. But growing up as a child in Mexico, it was always important for my family to try to look our best. We were told that being neat and well-groomed showed respect for those around you.” Melissa describes her personal style as simple with a flair. “I look for comfort, practicality, and affordability – but I also want to have some fun.” Uri says the most valuable pieces in the couple’s home are those that tell a story. “Things from trips or pieces that have been in the family for many years – those pieces scattered around our house remind me of a time, a place, a certain mood. That’s what makes them special to me.”

Marnita Schroedl, social capitalist, mother, and mentor, is co-founder of Marnita’s Table, an organization that brings people together across race, class, and culture to find common ground through dialogue and a meal. She describes her style persona as an “exuberant, eclectic, iconoclast,” and views the matchy-matchy style mentality as outdated. Instead, she says, “If it is beautiful, well-made, and you love it, then it goes together, because it has you in common.” As a young dancer, Schroedl developed an appreciation of art. “I never had much money, but I would prefer one exquisite handmade thing to many, many soulless things made by a machine.”

Stephanie Lake, jewelry designer and owner of Stephanie Lake Design, has long had a passion for fashion and creating a unique sense of style. “My early life revolved around developing my own tastes and prized wardrobe,” she says. Lake finds handmade pieces are especially appealing to a collector such as herself: “What is more enchanting than something that comes from the imagination and is brought to life by sheer will and skill?” Lake, who is the fifth person ever to earn a Ph.D. in decorative arts, design history, and material culture, is also the creative director at American Guitar & Band, founder of the Métier Arts Council, and founder of the Bonnie Cashin Foundation.

Jayne Haugen Olson's career has focused on spotting and setting trends. "As an editor, I'm interested in all types of trends -- how and why we surround ourselves with the things we do," she says. Haugen Olson is editorial director for Mpls. St.Paul Magazine, and editor-in-chief of Delta Air Lines' Sky magazine. She is a frequent contributor to local radio and television programs on trend topics. Her style motto is less is more. "I work in a fast-paced environment, so my home is not cluttered. I have been working to streamline my home and wardrobe to have less, but have items that mean more," she adds. "Handcrafted pieces and distinctive pieces are a part of that vision."

Ann Ruhr Pifer is the owner of the Grand Hand Gallery, a St. Paul gallery that showcases contemporary American craft in a variety of mediums. The Grand Hand reflects Pifer’s passion for handmade craft. “Having beautiful, handmade things in your life – things you use and touch every day in the course of your daily routine – just makes life richer,” she says.

Sally Wheaton Hushcha, owner and principal designer for Wheaton Hushcha Design, says she was fortunate to have smart, passionate parents for whom art and aesthetic considerations were paramount. “They exposed me to myriad cross-cultural art forms, practices, and ideas – visual, musical, etc., from classic to quirky,” she says.

Nancy Krant and John Oliva are the owner-operators of Specs Optical in Minneapolis. As a couple, their “unfussy, uncomplicated, and un-ornamented” style reflects who they are and what they value. Krant and Oliva find inspiration for their style in everyday life. “If you keep your eyes and ears open to new stimuli, you can be informed by the most commonplace event or circumstance.”

Jeremy Mayberg is a principal with RSP Architects, where he leads the cultural design studio, which focuses on museums and theaters. Mayberg describes his style as straightforward and natural. “Whether it’s food, plants, or clothing, I prefer native and natural over cultivated and manufactured. I like things simple, authentic, and understated – with a sense of humor thrown in for good measure.”