On the fourth floor of the Northrup-King Building in Studio 462, Beth Hansen shares a small studio with three other artists. Watercolors and paintings of birch forests, wolves, and vibrant seaside vistas adorn nearly every open space of wall, and spill out into the hallways outside of the studio. Among the paintings stands an array of furniture—a glass shelf, two empty picture frames, a navy-blue cabinet—adorned with jewelry. Behind it, a work station with lumps of silver, copper and brass, and clusters of metalworking tools.
When I walked in the studio, Beth was sitting at a chair applying a piece of steel wool to a tiny earring. “A friend of mine lost hers, and I’m replacing it,” she said. Beth has been a silversmith for four years. Before that, she beaded, and before that, she served as an art director in advertising. Now retired, she sought an activity to provide a rhythm to life. “Retirement can make you feel lost; this has filled the void. It’s a reason…not necessarily to get up every day, but it makes me excited to learn.”
Beth came to Minneapolis from Kansas City to go to school at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design. She made a point of noting that when she went, it was pronounced “Em-see-ay-dee”, not, “em-cad”, as it is now. After starting work in advertising, got married, and had kids, she found that maintaining hobbies were hard.
Her desire to continue learning, though, never abated. After retiring, she discovered her passion for jewelry after attending a beading class with a friend. It wasn’t long before she found she wanted more control over the material and go beyond just stringing beads together. “I wanted to have more connection to the material”, she remarked. “And I really enjoy metal. It’s responsive, temperamental, has its own personality. It’ll act one way one day, a different way the next. I love the discovery part of art.”
When she first started getting into metal jewelry, she didn’t know how far she would take it. It started as a hobby, but she enjoyed making jewelry for her friends and selling her wares. Soon, she was browsing for space in the Northrup-King Building with her husband when he noticed the other women in studio 462 were looking for another studio-mate, and things fell into place soon after that.
The building used to house the packing operations of the Northrup-King Seed Company, and Beth remembers those days when Northeast was still mostly a blue-collar area. A place with a strong working class and immigrants from the Czech Republic, the Ukraine, and Poland. She described as a place not on many people’s radars—a far cry from today’s eclectic mix of artists and craft beer-lovers.
She views Northeast today as a community unto itself—you can live here, work here, shop here, and never leave the vicinity. As much as she credits the art community for revitalizing the down-trodden neighborhood, she credits Minneapolis residents for having a thirst for local art, for being interested in supporting local in the first place. Like many others, she sees Northeast and Minneapolis as a victim of its own success at times; people love the blue-collar feel here, but houses disappear from the market in days in Northeast, and they’re not being occupied by industrial workers anymore.
In the meantime, Beth defiantly stated, “you’d have a hard time taking me out of here.” Though she might not interact with others in the building much, the like-minded people here make her feel welcome. The Northrup-King Building, her studio, the other artists—they all give her a vehicle to continue learning. “These creative spaces are providing something to engage yourself in, some place to see yourself in the world—we don’t have a lot of those opportunities anymore.” Whether it’s learning the ancient jewelry technique of chasing and repoussé, getting inspiration for a new pair of earrings, or having a conversation with her studio-mates on a First Thursday, Beth relishes these moments of continuing education. “It’s more than nice,” she said. “It’s required.”