Posts Categorized: Entrepreneurs

Trust Your Crazy Ideas: Danielle Ameling + Iron Leaf Press

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Trust Your Crazy Ideas print by Danielle Ameling, of Iron Leaf Press

By Aryn Henning Nichols • Originally published in the Fall 2013 Inspire(d)

Ossian, Iowa, native Danielle Ameling trusted her crazy idea and started her letterpress and design business, Iron Leaf Press. Turns out, it’s a winner.

Everybody knows we love a good entrepreneur around here. Starting a business is… dare we say… inspiring!

It’s damn hard too.

The first step is, obviously, a really great idea. The next? A really great plan.

So to help build a fire under everyone’s collective bums, many cities and states are hosting business plan contests. To enter, you submit your great idea, all laid out and ready to go in a plan that says “I could start this tomorrow”. Winnings range from hundreds of dollars to tens of thousands of dollars to more abstract – but equally helpful – booty like free rent and business consulting.

IronLeafPress_danielleSuch was the case for Ossian native Danielle Ameling (pictured at right – photo by Michael Wagler). Her business, Iron Leaf Press, won free rent for two years – plus support services and a utility stipend – through the 2013 Project Bright Idea Business Plan Contest.

Project Bright Idea was created by a group of volunteers partnering with Lisbon-based Moon Eye Ventures. It was created to encourage regional entrepreneurs to take the leap and get their plans on paper, with a goal of luring new startups to fill in vacant downtown buildings in Mount Vernon and Lisbon.

Iron Leaf Press, a custom design and letterpress studio – in business since 2011 (although Danielle started printmaking in 2007) – has now set up shop in the grand prize: a completely renovated, 1,000-square-foot historical building in downtown Lisbon, Iowa. Danielle has moved in her three presses – the Nolan proof press, a Kelsey 6”x10” tabletop platen press, and a Chandler and Price 10”x15” platen press – and has been busy making all sorts of cool stuff from invitations to posters to packaging to business cards. The only real printing stipulation: It should be flat. In addition, Iron Leaf Press provides graphic design and branding services. It’s a business that’s been a long time in the making for Danielle.

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Above photo by Studio eM Photography

After graduating from South Winn High School in 2005 and from Grand View University in Des Moines summa cum laude with a degree in graphic design in 2009, Danielle worked at Main Street Iowa, then as a graphic designer at Cedar Rapids-based RuffaloCODY. But she had other ideas in the works. Really great ideas. (Remember: That’s the first step.)

“I’ve always been crafting, painting, and drawing since I was a kid,” she writes. “I really enjoyed drawing lettering in particular and that eventually led me to graphic design.” Which eventually led her to printmaking which then led her to letterpress and finally to Iron Leaf Press.

We caught up with Danielle via email this summer (2013). In between runs on the press and helping run her boyfriend’s fiancée’s farmers market beignet stand, Sweet Dee’s (for which she developed the branding), she managed to share some of what’s inspiring her now and some strategies for starting a new business and entering a business plan contest yourself.

Interested in doing just that? Check out the listings at the end of the article for some business plan contests in the tri-state area.

Q&A with Danielle Ameling, founder of Iron Leaf Press

What’s inspiring you right now?
Everything and anything really. I particularly enjoy vintage typography and illustrations, especially vintage packaging. I usually get inspired by my surroundings and friends. At one point I decided I was going to host a show called “Fun with Paper” (a la Sheldon Cooper) after trying to describe the difference between text and cover weight paper to a group of friends (paper nerd!). A lot of the greeting cards come about from off the cuff comments in these discussions. (ed. note: one of her cards reads: “sh*t happens when you party naked”.)

I also am a member of both the Ladies of Letterpress and the Amalgamated Printer’s Association. Both groups have some amazing printers and I continually am inspired by the work that they put together.

View More: http://jenmadigan.pass.us/ironleafpress

Photo by Jen Madigan Photography

Why letterpress?
Letterpress, for me, is a way to be creative not only in the design, but in the production. I like being able to work with clients on special projects – those that have a very personal impact. I also really enjoy the challenges of working through production. Using antique printing presses can create their own challenges, but I like being able to have that control over the end product.

I create the majority of my greeting cards using hand-set type, which is a challenge in itself. Each letter is a separate piece of metal or wood type and must be locked in place or the type will be “pied,” meaning the type will fall and have to be re-set. It really makes me appreciate how much skill and craftsmanship went into printing in the past.

Beyond all of that, the machinery related to the printing field (especially those in the late 19th century) are amazing feats of engineering and technology. It’s amazing to know that I can produce these items with this antique machinery, and currently all of my equipment runs on NO electricity (other than my computer). Everything is human powered.

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Photo by Jen Madigan Photography

You’re kind of a jack-of-all trades, design-wise. What else do you do? (Or should we ask what DON’T you do?!)
🙂 I do work on a lot of different projects. The main projects I focus on are commercial and social stationery including invitations, notecards, business cards, packaging, posters, and greeting cards. I also do logos and branding. I can print on most things, as long as they are flat, so there are many options out there – I’ve even printed on boxes and gift bags before.

In addition to the custom and commercial work I do, I have a line of greeting cards and paper goods that I sell online, at art/craft shows, and in select retailers.

I have some experience doing email and web design (I take care of those for Iron Leaf Press) but that’s really the only design area that I don’t do a ton of work in –I’ve always been more of a print designer.

Out of all that, what’s your favorite?
I think my favorite projects are the ones where I get a chance to really connect with the recipient. Hearing the story on how a couple met for a wedding invite or how someone is looking for a gift to celebrate a promotion, etc. – the stories behind the pieces are always fun for me.

Tell us about the business plan contest process.
I had participated in the Dream Big, Grow Here regional contest back in the fall (run by University of Northern Iowa’s MyEntre.Net). I didn’t end up winning, but that helped propel me forward into pursuing Iron Leaf Press more full time. I had been on the lookout for a larger studio space to add some larger equipment and heard about Project Bright Idea in Lisbon. Each applicant had to provide a detailed business plan (prior to winning this space, everything was in a small room in my second-floor apartment). The committee met and reviewed the applicants (I wasn’t privy to this part of the process so I’m not sure all of what happened behind the scenes). Eventually Moon Eye Ventures wanted to meet with me and discuss my business plan and goals. I met with them a few additional times and they ended up choosing me for this space.

View More: http://jenmadigan.pass.us/ironleafpress

Photo by Jen Madigan Photography

Advice to others who want to start their own business? How about others who want to enter a business plan contest?
Keep your chin up and keep moving forward. Throughout this process I kept asking myself if I was crazy – especially once I bought my largest press that weighs in at over 1500 lbs – but I bought it anyway. If you believe in your business and it is a passion, you will find ways to make it work.

Also be sure to surround yourself with people that love and support you with your crazy ideas. My family and boyfriend and friends have been extremely supportive and that makes a huge difference. Meeting with other business owners is a great resource as well. They know the type of things you are working through and often have ways to help you grow.

Specifically with business plan contests, plan your business like you are going to win. Make your plan show exactly how you are going to use the winnings and how it fits into your overall goals. Be confidant, but humble. For someone to “buy into” your business, they are just as much buying into your personality and demeanor.

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Aryn Henning Nichols is also a paper and print nerd. Wouldn’t it be fun to print Inspire(d) all old-school? Okay, maybe just one. Okay, maybe just one cover. Oh wait! No need; it’s already done. You can buy those at ironleafpress.com! Seriously, folks: trust your crazy ideas!

P.S. Danielle says the Printer’s Hall in Mt Pleasant, Iowa, is worth a visit for any print inclined folks. “It has some amazing printing equipment, including a machine that lines paper – that’s all it does (in the past it would do mostly ledgers) but it looks similar to a giant weaving loom.” The old Ossian Bee printing press is also there, as well as the lock up for the last front page it printed for the Bee. “It runs off a steam engine and is a wild machine.”

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Got a Great Idea? Make a Plan. And WIN!
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Dream Big, Grow Here / NE Iowa Business Network
Deadline: Current contest deadline has passed, but stay tuned and start planning for the next round!
www.dreambiggrowhere.com
This is a grant contest is open only to Iowans.  Dreamers compete online for votes for a shot to win a $5,000 regional grant, and then become eligible to further compete for a chance to win a $10,000 grand prize to be announced at EntreFEST 2015.

Wisconsin Govenor’s Business Plan Contest
Deadline: 2015 deadline has passed, but stay tuned and start planning for the next round!
www.govsbizplancontest.com
The mission of the Governor’s Business Plan Contest is to encourage entrepreneurs in the creation, startup and early-growth stages of high-tech businesses in Wisconsin. Finalists will share in more than $100,000 in seed capital and in-kind services. Since its inception in 2004, nearly 2,300 entries have been received and about $1.5 million in cash and services have been awarded.

The John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Centers Iowa Business Plan Competition
Deadline: June 20, 2015
www.iowabusinessplancompetition.com
The plan must be an original idea for a business in operation for four years or less or have not yet reached cash flow positive financial status. The principal business operations of the business must be located in Iowa. One Grand Prize Winner will receive $25,000 and, in addition, recognition of their work on the website for the competition. ($15,000 for Second Prize and $10,000 for Third Prize.)

The Minnesota Cup
Deadline: May 8, 2015
mncup.org
Since 2005, the Minnesota Cup has attracted over 7,000 entries and is now the largest new venture competition in the country. This program is for Minnesota’s entrepreneurs, inventors and small business people. It is for those individuals or early stage businesses that are pursuing their dreams and working on their breakthrough business idea. Prizes range from $5,000 to $40,000.

Brian Andreas: Love and Magic (Or Something Like It)

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By Aryn Henning Nichols • Images courtesy StoryPeople

There’s magic in that cup of coffee (tea, beer, water) you’re drinking. Also in that stack of papers sitting right next to you. Definitely outside that window. Here’s a little (big) secret: There’s magic in everything.

“Finding magic is simple if you just let go of all the things. Just stop,” says Brian Andreas, artist/writer/magician behind the internationally known art and publishing company, StoryPeople. “People forget the world is magical, so we need to be reminded. To remember. To enjoy the moment.”

SLM coverThere is definitely magic to be found at the StoryPeople studio in downtown Decorah. Bright walls plus busy doers and makers create a scene filled with energy. Brian stands in orange pants and a tee shirt behind stacks upon stacks of the latest – his twelfth – StoryPeople book, Something Like Magic. He’s in town from Santa Barbara signing copies – 2,500, to be exact – to be shipped out to the lucky folks who pre-ordered before the October release date. Also on the visit’s agenda: Plan “all the things” with the StoryPeople crew. Everyone munches on raw cacao beans and dark chocolate as they happily tack “Yay! Actual signed copy – Woo-hoo” stickers on the books and wrap them up.

Brian takes a break when his hand stops working –“It just started moving by itself!” – and sits down to chat over a cup of tea.

“The past few years I’ve really started rethinking life and identity. What does love want from me? What lights me up? This carries through in the work I do. It’s all about enjoying the moment. I want to tell everyone about it. It’s the legacy of our future. It’s a big f-ing deal!” he says, throwing his hands up in the air between sips of Earl Grey.

This exploration is prevalent in Something Like Magic. It’s the first StoryPeople book that doesn’t follow a he said/she said point of view. Instead, it’s an I/you.

“The divine in you/the divine in me. Love with a capital L.” And love, as Brian says: “It’s the most important thing.”

He continues, obviously passionate about his mission.

BrianAndreas“How do I tell the world how much everyone’s loved?” he asks. “It is so simple. Love is the most important thing.”

It was this phrase “sometimes you just need to remember the most important thing” – uttered to him on a garden bench outside a party – that “cracked open,” as Brian says, his consciousness. It was like a secret he just forgot for a bit – and he’s not the only one.

“These are secrets because a lot of us know them and along the way, a lot of us forgot. That’s exactly why I call them secrets,” Brian writes in the Something Like Magic introduction. “Each one is something like magic, because all it takes is a moment of remembering them and suddenly the whole world sparkles again. The funny thing is it never stopped sparkling. We just stopped seeing it, because it was too simple and we were convinced it must be something different. We let ourselves be convinced the most important thing was something different than the love and magic that’s been here all along.”

Love and magic are, of course, no strangers to the whimsical StoryPeople tales. Since its inception in 1993, the stories and drawings have pondered, prodded, and delighted in life. Readers can find them adorning everything from wood sculptures to colorful prints to coffee mugs and more. They’ve also been collected in a series of books for adults and children, and have twice been nominated for the Pulitzer Prize.

Brian Andreas’ own story, like most people’s, has taken him on a zig-zagging journey. From Iowa City, Iowa – where he was born in 1956 – to Chicago to Luther College in Decorah – where he met his now former wife, Ellen Rockne, – to California – where he and Ellen founded StoryPeople – back to Decorah and finally back to California.

“Life isn’t this linear path, even though when you look back, you can see, ‘Oh yeah, that led to that, and so on,’” he says. “When you’re dancing your way across a stream, you pick up the rocks that aren’t wet.”

While Brian currently resides in Santa Barbara, California, StoryPeople has kept its heart (and headquarters) in Downtown Decorah since 1994. Brian travels between the two states frequently to keep up on business, family, and friends.

The company technically began while Brian, Ellen, and their two boys, Gabe and Matthew, were living in Berkley, California in the early 90s. But Brian’s stories started long before then – in college, he wrote lots of letters, and each contained a quote from his own fictional character, “John O’Keefe Beefheart.” Nudged by Ellen to put some of that into his artwork, Brian made his first StoryPeople piece: A 4×4 block, covered in layers and layers of gesso, hand-stamped with a story. Well….a little story, anyway.

“My stories are really, really short. They have to be! Hand-stamping those letters takes a long time,” he says with a laugh. This new style of work took off, and soon, so did the family – back to Iowa.

KindridSpirits“We were in Berkeley, and got a call from a friend. ‘Get down and away from the windows. There’s an armed man outside.’ We got down and pretended we were playing a game with the boys,” he says. “Later, we found out they were robbing the bank a block away, and we thought, ‘Oh good. No big deal.’ Then we thought, ‘What? No big deal?!’ Three weeks later we were on our way to Decorah.”

At that time, StoryPeople was at a massive growth point, expanding quickly from 50 galleries nationwide to more than 200. But Brian knew they could produce this art from anywhere…as long as they were willing to take the leap.

“It was either Decorah or Sonoma. But we had family in Iowa. And I’d experienced Berkeley studio assistants,” Brian says with yet another laugh. “Working with people from Iowa sounded a lot more appealing.”

Getting things off the ground in rural Iowa was definitely not without its trials, though.

“I wouldn’t say any of it was hard – it was all interesting,” Brian says. “I don’t whine about something that doesn’t exist. Creatives forget – you can create it! If you don’t want to make it, quit whining about it.”

A self-professed “practical Virgo” to a T, he knew if there was something he needed, he could make it happen.

“I came to town and said, ‘Where’s your [Internet] gateway?’ I asked if I could use Luther’s, but they said no. So I walked into our office and said, ‘We’re gonna have to start an ISP (internet service provider).’”

So they did. Brian launch the Salamander ISP shortly after they arrived in Decorah. And when they couldn’t find the right printing options in town, they opened their own print shop, CopyLand (which still exists under different ownership on Water Street in Downtown Decorah).

“Once you’ve invented yourself, that ‘not possible’ doesn’t exist,” he says.

In addition to inventing himself (and businesses), inventing moments is a favorite.

“I have this thing where I invent past memories with people – we did it at a conference I spoke at recently. We start off telling a story – remember that day we all went to that lake in the mountains? The sky was so blue… – and one person continues on until it feels like we’ve all had this shared experience, even though it wasn’t real. The mind can’t discern between real and fantasy,” he says. “It’s so fun!”

This willingness to play, to make-believe, to always find the love and magic in the world – it’s what keeps StoryPeople so popular. Followers world-wide find little pieces of their lives in the hundreds of artworks produced.

“The stories really do sneak in there – one that didn’t made sense to someone one day might crack open for them another day,” Brian says. “There are lots of people out there starry-eyed from StoryPeople stories.”

Brian hopes – no, believes – that this positive energy indicates a change coming.

“I’m excited about this time in the world – there’s this this new consciousness that’s emerging. I feel like there is a cracking-open process happening all over. Ah!” he says, holding his hands out one more time. “I love living in this world! It’s such a wonderful place to be.”

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ArynRoxie_MasksAryn Henning Nichols has long thought Brian Andreas was inspiring – meeting him solidified that notion; he was so much fun to chat with! She especially enjoys the idea that things are shifting in the world – positivity will reign! Let’s keep that moving forward, friends!

Connecting Stories:
Brian has literally written thousands of stories – on various napkins, scraps of envelopes, and in the pages of his journals. You can see many of his current stories almost instantly on instagram: instagram.com/brianandreas (“It’s a blast!” Brian says of Instagram). You can also follow StoryPeople at facebook.com/storypeoplebybrianandreas and at twitter.com/storypeople.

The number of stories that have been made into prints is roughly 300, with hundreds more offered through products (cards, apparel, wooden sculptures, ornaments, calendars, etc).

They have galleries in the U.S. and U.K., and fulfill orders worldwide. Learn more at storypeople.com.

So you wanna be a writer?

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Q&A with local author Jerry Johnson

Introduction & interview by Aryn Henning Nichols • Photos by Aaron Lurth

Writing books is easy.

Said no one ever.

But we know a lot of people who have uttered the words, “I want to write a book.” Or even better, “I’m going to write a book!” So where do you start? Decorah’s Jerry Johnson – hunter, blogger, writer, and all-around witty wordsmith – suggests you start with the obvious: Words. You gotta get them on the page.

“Write,” he says, “Write every day. Write with passion.”

Jerry does just that, and with great discipline. His blog, dispatchesfromanotherntown.com, is home to numerous essays, musings, and a good smattering of dog and hunting photos (another passion).

Jerry has also self-published two books. His latest, Scrawny Dog, Hungry Cat, and Fat Rat: A Tragedy for Children (March, 2014) was written 45 years ago by his then college-aged self, just getting ready to take the writing world by storm. Happily, past Jerry would pat future Jerry on his back. Through his long writing career, Jerry has published numerous stories, editorials, essays, and columns for a variety of newspapers and press organizations. (Update! Jerry has now published a third book: Crazy Old Coot, a collection of essays about bird hunting, bird dogs, and bird guns, memoirs, social and political commentary, and other pieces of creative non-fiction, August 2014! You can buy his book and meet the Old Coot himself at Dragonfly Books – there is a reading this Saturday, December 6, from 2-3:30 pm.)

“But those were all a long time ago,” he says, “And of course, not creative writing.”

So for now, Jerry has settled back into the best – and probably worst – aspect of writing: the creative part. And that doesn’t always – or even often – lead to a book deal.

“Agents and publishers are not necessarily seeking good literature or even quality writing; they are seeking marketable writing,” he says. “If you write zombie or romance or mystery novels, you might be marketable. If you write for niche audiences, readers of outdoor sports literature for example, you may not be marketable.”

Along with a tendency for long titles – in addition to …Tragedy for Children, his first published book is titled Hunting Birds: The Lives and Legends of the Pine County Rod, Gun, Dog and Social Club – Jerry is apt to gear his work toward his life (hunting, dogs, old friends and good stories). He’s currently writing a collection of essays on outdoor sports, posting one or more to the blog each week in hopes of eventually compiling them for a book.

“I puttered around with a sequel to Hunting Birds, but I couldn’t get back into the character of Carter Preston, the story’s protagonist,” he says. “Some day an essay will take off and grow to 50,000 words and I’ll be on my way to a new novel.”

Jerry shares some advice he’s learned along the way – it won’t make it easy, but it sure as heck can’t hurt, write (groan…)?

JerryJohnson_4How long have you been a writer? At what point do you think it’s okay to call yourself “writer”?

Way back in the sixth grade, I was telling friends I would be a writer. I wrote a science fiction “novel” that year. I considered myself a true writer in August 1975 when my first published work, news and editorial and sports columns, rolled off the press of a weekly newspaper in Nebraska, where I was editor – and advertising rep and distribution manager and janitor. So I say you can call yourself a writer when you actually publish your work and someone reads it.

What’s your inspiration?

Inspiration? Mania, I suppose. Writers live to write. We’re slaves to the passion. It is captured perfectly in a Harry Chapin song: “For music was his life, it was not his livelihood/ It made him feel so happy, it made him feel so good/ And he sang from his heart, he sang from his soul/ He did not know how well he sang, it just made him whole.”

How do you go about finding a place to start publishing?

After much frustration dealing with publishing houses and agents, I followed the advice of a friend and e-published my novel “Hunting Birds” on Amazon.com. There are several e-publishing and POD (print on demand) services available online. My advice: Do some research and select the one that feels best for you.

Can you tell us more about how online publishing works?

I publish in three formats: Kindle books (Amazon); CreateSpace POD (print on demand) paperback books (also Amazon); and on my blog, “Dispatches from a Northern Town,” (dispatchesfromanotherntown.com). It costs little (blogs) to nothing (ebooks and POD books) to publish your work. I am a technology troglodyte, though, so it was still a challenge. Fortunately, some of my former Luther College students are professionals with this stuff, and they helped a doddering old man get across the busy street.

Any tips for folks out there hoping to follow your lead?

Write. Write every day. Write with passion. Then read it aloud. If it sounds good, it probably is. If it sounds like junk, it probably is. Keep the good and throw away the bad. When you have written something really good, publish it. If you submit your work to an agent in hopes of getting it accepted by a big-name publishing house, remember that rejections are just like the sunrise: They happen every day.

Will you ever publish to print?

If you mean, will I attempt to find an agent and try to get my work accepted by a big publishing house? Probably not (he self-publishes and you can, in fact, pick up his book here in the Driftless Region). I worked in marketing 25 years. Now I want to write.

Tell us about “Scrawny Dog, Hungry Cat, and Fat Rat: A Tragedy for Children” (March, 2014)

It’s a novel for middle-grades children, written 45 years ago by a 19-year-old college student setting out on the long road to become me. Publishers (then) were not interested. I read it to my children, who had little choice but to say they liked it. Somewhere along the road, the manuscript was lost. My college roommate reconnected with me a few years ago, and one day he amazingly said he had a copy of the final draft. He encouraged me to rewrite it and publish it. I gave him a copy of the revised manuscript in November 2013. He died 12 days later. Now my grandchildren read it and say “Ah, pajamas!” – Cat cursing. I don’t know if kids today will like it. I rewrote it and published it as a tribute to friendship, and the book is dedicated to my friend Michael Shelton.

Lightning round:
What’s the first thing that comes to your mind…?

Books: Adventures.
Internet: World’s biggest library.
Summer: Almost fall.
Dog: You know, I shoulda been a professional dog trainer…
Kids: Have them while you’re young.
Ice Cream: Chocolate
Hunting: Heaven
Purple: Passion (Purple Passion was an alcoholic beverage made with Everclear; it does not taste good when it come back up through your nose – not that I personally experienced this)
Procrastination: The mother of all innovation.
Money: What you will not make much of as a self-published creative writer.

Hone Your Process:
Jerry shares seven creative writing “rules”

  1. Discipline: Write something every day, even if it is only 500 words.
  2. Truth: Write what you know, what you have experienced.
  3. Focus: Write to one specific person: “Hey, Michael, I want to tell you this story.”
  4. Honesty: You are beautiful and ugly, hero and villain, compassionate and hurtful; write about it all, not just the pretty side.
  5. Suffer: Make your characters suffer hurts and obstacles; that is how you reveal their character.
  6. Purpose: Each paragraph you write has to do one of three things: Advance the plot, tell something important about a character, or describe the setting.
  7. Passion: Write with joy and abandon, otherwise you are writing junk.

Paperback editions of both books are now available at two Decorah locations: Dragonfly Books and Luther College Book Shop.

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Aryn Henning Nichols has wanted to be a writer since fourth grade. Since she has so many titles at Inspire(d), she doesn’t ever say, “I’m a writer.” But maybe this summer she’ll give it a try… everyone really should be exposed to her terrible puns, right?

Aaron Lurth is a graduate of Luther College (BA) and the University of Iowa (MFA in Photography and Graphic Design). He serves as Director of Visual Media at Luther where he also teaches in the Visual and Performing Arts department. Aaron has been a photographer for the Experimental Aircraft Association at AirVenture (the world’s largest air show), as well as numerous marketing campaigns for Luther College, minor league baseball teams, and in advertising for General Electric, NCCA Magazine, Sport Pilot, CNET.com, and many more. Aaron also leads National Geographic Student Expeditions and teaches at Decorah’s ArtHaus.