Artisinal Goods in Your Neck of the Woods

Two local artisans and one importer of Mexican artisanal products enrich the community.
Jerry Michaels (collared shirt) works in the J Michaels Co. Inc. workshop with his sons.

Whether you’re looking to restore an old wooden table, shop authentic Mexican folk art or locally made jewelry, Minnesotans often don’t have to look farther than our own neighborhoods. The following businesses show the range we offer in talent and unique aesthetic.

J Michaels Co. Inc.

Jerry Michaels was the first Michaels to be employed by the J Michaels Co. Inc., the business he opened in 1937. Today he employs himself and his two sons who’ve been working for the business since high school. Now in their 50s, they operate the store with their father.

“The boys have their talents, and they’re very capable of taking the business over,” says Michaels, who still oversees the shop. “They’ve never had to fill out a job application.”

J Michaels Co. Inc. has been repairing and refurbishing furniture in Minneapolis for over eight decades. While they don’t call themselves custom builders, they’ve made parts for themselves and customers over the years. And if there’s something they can’t fix, they’ll find someone who can.

The most common repairs for J Michaels Co. Inc., says Michaels, are chairs broken during the holidays. Less common projects involve old world furniture, like an 18th century bedroom set from Holland, a walnut kitchen set from the 1870s and unique finishes like gold leafing and intricate carvings.

The state of Minnesota even gave the shop some of its business. In 2016, J Michaels Co. Inc. had nearly nine truckloads of office furniture delivered to them from the capitol building, including long wooden tables and roll-top desks.

Michaels still does everything by hand, insisting if you’re looking for a nice wooden piece, you’re better off not buying in stores because the quality isn’t what it used to be.

With no machines, no advertising and shop hours from 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday, certain aspects of business haven’t changed much since 1937. Stop in to talk to Michaels and his sons—just before rush hour starts.

Jerry Michaels // Owner of J Michaels Co. Inc.
Hours: 6AM to 2PM, M-F
2608 First Ave. S., Mpls.

Houser Jewelry

Denise Houser earned degrees, had a career in insurance and consulting, and raised kids, but she needed a hobby.
Houser took up knitting, then drawing, learned to make carpets, scarves and braided leather before she found her calling in designing and creating jewelry. Houser Jewelry was the result of this years-long pursuit of the arts, a perhaps unexpected career choice for a woman who grew up without the encouragement to pursue such studies. Now Houser uses connections in Thailand to provide metal and unique pieces to her line. Her goal for 2018 is to broaden her base and get her name out there.

While Houser was initially curious about the handcrafted nature of the metal typically made by hill tribes in Thailand, “it became more about providing jobs, making a connection with these people and most importantly giving hope,” says Houser, who’s able to provide people with fair wages and work with the Rain Tree foundation, an organization helping to empower those in rural and underdeveloped areas with education.

Now Houser is able to design exactly the kind of necklaces, bracelets, pins and earrings she wants, all with a heavy sprinkling of inspiration from her travels to Thailand. You might call her aesthetic organic, even vintage or antique, she says. “Refined and rustic,” works, too, thanks to her signature Thai metal and leather accents, which are used intermittently with stones and beads.

Houser lets the pieces speak for themselves and even guide the design process. She’s a fan of rough edges and the occasional pop of color. Her home design space is littered with unique finds from her travels, as well as stories about where they’re from. To the untrained eye, these are metal pieces for jewelry. To Houser, they’re people and stories.

Houser Jewelry can currently be found at Grethen house in Edina, Gray Home and Lifestyle in Excelsior and Key North Boutique in northeast Minneapolis, as well as her online store.

While Houser spends most of her time working alone, she credits being around other creative souls as a way to jumpstart her art. More than anything, Houser believes women are more than capable of opening their own business. “I never thought I would be able to call myself an artist,” says Houser. Now also an entrepreneur, Houser continues working towards expanding her business and giving a boost to those in need.

Denise Houser // Owner and creator of Houser Jewelry
Can be contacted through PR: Jeanne Carpenter of Perception INK
Denise Houser Design

Zinnia Folk Arts

Sitting on the corner of West 50th Street and Bryant Avenue, Zinnia Folk Arts has been importing Mexican folkart since 2011. Shop owner Anne Damon handpicks every item lining the walls of the store, building a colorful welcome to visitors.

“No one else was doing it in the Twin Cities, so I decided to,” says Damon of opening her business. Damon travels to Mexico at least three times a year, meeting local artisans, seeing their work and hearing stories of many doing the same work their parents and grandparents did before.

“I really want to see everything and make sure it’s made by [the artisans],” says Damon, who travels to several regions in Mexico to find her inventory. These trips are a job perk for Damon, who hunts for artisanal items at holidays like Day of the Dead and Easter, among others.

For shoppers interested in learning about the culture behind the folk art, Damon writes about the art created to celebrate holidays in Mexico on Zinnia’s blog, found on her website along with her online shop.

Damon says she’s seen it all, but when she gets surprised, she really does. “It’s a process of being open and just getting out there,” says Damon. “Everything in the shop is my taste. It reflects me and my interest in whimsy, color, happiness, joy … I can’t imagine anyone else doing the buying.”

Damon’s appreciation for Mexican culture is evident in conversation and visible in Zinnia, where Damon says ceramics and jewelry reign most popular among the textiles, decorations, home goods and one-of-a-kind finds. A pink couch sits at the front of the store, not for sale.

Stop into the shop to see Damon’s curated finds. She may even tell you about her travels, which you can also follow on Zinnia’s instagram.

Anne Damon // Owner and operator of Zinnia Folk Arts
826 West 50th St., Mpls.
Zinnia Folk Arts, LLC