Posts Tagged: More Than a Hobby

More Than a Hobby: Tim Blanski

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Tim Blanski of Granary Woodshops, Spring Grove, Minnesota

Story and photos by Kristine Jepsen • Originally published in the Fall 2015 Inspire(d)

Historic dream home you’d finally saved up for? Check.

Corporate tech jobs and a community of friends provisioning a predictable retirement? Check.

Logical next-step: Give it all up for an acreage in the rural Driftless, funded by woodworking skills dated to junior high?

Wait. What?

TimBlanski“It’s true,” Tim Blanski of Granary Woodshops says. “We hadn’t been in our dream house in St. Paul nine months – a house we’d walked past for years and saved to buy – when an ad for this acreage caught my eye in the paper.” One tour of the 1880 brick farmhouse and outbuildings at 18666 County Road 4, north of Spring Grove, Minnesota, had both Tim and his wife, Lisa Catton, testing fate. “We got back in the car, and she asked, ‘Do we make an offer tonight, or tomorrow?’”

MoreThanHobbyLogoThe problem was, they’d have to make a different living to make the move. As a marketing executive with an eye for salable detail, Tim set up a woodworking shop in the acreage’s original granary and turned his attention to the growing trend of artisan crafts made from reclaimed antique wood. “At first I made just gift boxes, picture frames. I’m not God’s gift to woodworking – this was stuff straight out of your average school shop class,” he says with a laugh.

Lisa, who continued contract tech consulting part-time, pitched in with varnishing and managing the fledgling business’s public relations, and they peddled their first goods at craft shows across the Upper Midwest. Soon, Tim found his niche: a rare patience for not only salvaging historic barns and sheds but in working the wood just enough to let its story shine.

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“All my wood is trouble,” he says, explaining that he’ll spend days matching up weather-worn grooves at the mitered corners of a box, or travel a state over to have a one-ton white oak burl sawn into slabs with the live edge (the outermost bark or surface) intact. “I’m giving people the story of this wood, its history,” he says, “and that means not shearing it down to its smooth heart. I leave the saw marks, the nicks and grooves mice have worn a passageway through.” He also believes in letting the material’s colors create their own mosaic. “I don’t paint or stain anything. I work with the texture of the wood’s original paint or patina.”

Now specializing in custom furniture, particularly farm tables and decorative side pieces, Tom will build four or more buildings into a single piece: walnut for the base, cherry for the upright table trestle, rare 1-inch-by-12-inch barn siding across the top, oak trim fumed to a deep mahogany color by the ammonia of its previous installation: a horse stall.

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He also aims to give his furniture a full life of its own, calling in the mechanical expertise of other craftsmen to make the leaves in his tables sturdy, for example. “This is mortise and tenon,” he says, pointing to tiny rectangles inset in a table’s edge, “and these hold a single oak bridge across the leaves when fully extended,” he says, jigging a discrete set of polymer tension knobs just out of sight. “Reclaimed, antique wood is some of the sturdiest, most valuable wood to grow on earth,” he says. “Its worth is not just in looking pretty. It’s in doing a job, part of daily life.”

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As his finished pieces have expanded in size and notoriety – it’s been nearly 15 years since that first handmade gift box – Tim has pared back art show travel, preferring instead to host prospective customers at the farm, where they can walk with him through his neatly stacked trove of woods in his barn and express exactly what they envision for their table or chair or entryway mirror frame. He makes a steady stream of contacts through his website, granarywoodshops.com, and on Craigslist.com, where clients are looking for something a little extraordinary.

“I started out woodworking to make a living, almost a desperate living,” Tim says. “And instead I found a passion. Creativity came pouring out of me. I get up every day excited about what I get to make next.”

Learn more about Tim’s work at granarywoodshops.com or by setting up a visit to The Granary Woodshops in rural Spring Grove, Minnesota.

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Kristine Jepsen understands the compulsion to ‘make things,’ as evidenced by whole drawers in her home of light-gage wire, glitter, beads, fabric scraps, papers and, especially, writing instruments. She’s proud to call the Driftless home, where creatives are far from the exception.

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Check out Tim’s work in Lanesboro!

Lanesboro Arts presents “Story Wood: Combining Nature & Rural History”, an exhibit of 3D woodwork by Tim Blanski. The exhibit opens with an artist reception on Saturday, April 16, 2016, from 6-8 p.m., and runs through June 12, 2016. The reception will include wine and hors d’oeuvres, as well as live music. Always free and open to the public, the Lanesboro Arts Gallery is open five days a week through May and six days a week through December. Inspire(d) is a proud sponsor of this exhibit! 🙂

 

More Than a Hobby: LüSa Organics

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Rachel Wolf, LüSa Organics founder

By Sara Friedl-Putnam • Photos courtesy LüSa Organics
Originally published in Fall 2015 Inspire(d)

Rachel Wolf has been called many things – “rock star,” the “bee’s knees,” “genius,” and, yes, even “master of all things natural and pure.”

wolf_family_colorAs the owner and founder of LüSa Organics – a Viroqua, Wisconsin-based body care product company that she runs with her husband, Pete – she could easily let such lofty praise go to her head. Instead, Rachel keeps it real when describing herself. “I’m a writer, a mother, a homeschooler, an herbalist, a homesteader, and an all-around crafty lady,” she says with a laugh.

She also happens to be a firm proponent of the pursuit of happiness. MoreThanHobbyLogo“Life is supposed to be fun,” says Rachel, a former environmental educator who cooked up her first batch of soap (unscented honey oatmeal) with a group of friends in 1997. “You can choose the safe path, but if there is something that speaks to your heart, it’s always worth taking a risk to pursue it.”

And she has the life experience to prove it. Rachel was pregnant with her second child in 2006 when she and her husband moved from Baraboo, Wisconsin, to Viroqua to focus their energy on raising their children – son Sage and the then not-yet-arrived daughter Lupine – and on growing LüSa Organics, which was operating under two names, Queen Bee’s Earthly Delights and Baby Moon. “Pete quit his job as a solar system electrician, so we took an enormous leap trusting that the net would catch us,” she says. “But it felt right – it felt like the net would be there – and it was. We have never regretted taking that leap.”

lusa_illustrated_logoToday LüSa Organics offers a full line of handcrafted body care products – including soaps, balms, exfoliants, moisturizers, and sugar scrubs that smell – and feel – great. Even better? All LüSa products are made from ingredients that are organic and/or sourced locally; all its fragrances are created from essential oils (lavender, patchouli, peppermint, eucalyptus, and citronella, to name just a few); and all its coloring comes from natural pigments, herbs, and clay. The sunflower oil used in LüSa soaps (22 varieties and counting) even hails from an organic farm just down the road.

“Our products are of consistently high quality because we never compromise on ingredients or techniques,” says Rachel, whose own favorite essential oil derives from calendula, a plant with a long history of use as a healing herb. “Our customers want to know what the products are made of, how they work, and who’s making them. That’s part of the reason I write my ‘Clean’ blog – I want to be trusted by our customers and transparent in our business operations.”

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In the blog, she invites readers into her family’s daily lives. Read through the entries­ – which date back to 2008 – and you’ll learn, for starters, how Lupine makes jam, Sage taps a maple tree, and Rachel herself perfects peaceful parenting. (Some of her basic tenets? Forgive, accept, and love yourself). This refreshing transparency – as well as her company’s unwavering commitment to quality – are big reasons why LüSa has generated such a passionate customer base worldwide. Word of mouth has landed many of its products – like its bestselling, cloth-diaper-safe Booty Balm and Baby Wipe Juice – on the shelves of retailers in most states and even as far away as Australia.

And while LüSa Organics continues to grow in product sales and reputation, don’t think for a minute Rachel is content to rest on her laurels. To the contrary, she is constantly dreaming up, tinkering with, and testing potential new additions to the LüSa product line. “I’ve always been intrigued by the chemical alchemy of turning simple, safe ingredients into warm, luxurious body care products,” she says. “It’s satisfying, and somewhat thrilling, to know we can create something new with not much more than a good idea, a few quality ingredients, and our bare hands.”

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LüSa Organics products are available in stores throughout Wisconsin, Minnesota, and (now) Iowa as well as online at www.lusaorganics.com. Each year the company donates 10 percent of its profits to organizations generating positive global change, like Sow the Seeds, Heifer International, and the La Leche League. If you visit the LüSa website, be sure to also take a peek at Rachel’s engaging blog, “Clean.”

Read the Fall 2015 Inspire(d) Online!

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You get a sneak peek, you unicorns, you! Check out the Fall 2015 Inspire(d) Magazine online here today.

Here’s what you’ll get to read:
Steam Sisters Clara Bergan • More Than a Hobby: Paula Brown. LüSa Organics. Tim Blanksi. Lori Biwer-Stewart. Yellow River Dairy • Driftless Day Trips: Cassville / Potosi • Good Gourd! Infographic • Sum of Your Business: Jessica & Derek Balsley • Probit: Marvin Wicks • & More!