For more than two decades, Star Tribune readers turned to Kristin Tillotson’s byline for insightful, sophisticated and often funny observations about the arts world and the bigger world, too.
As a pop culture columnist, arts critic and feature writer, Tillotson delighted in the details, treating the famous and the unknown with the same fresh brush.
To honor our colleague, who died May 11 at age 56 after a brief illness, we’re sharing a few samples of the gifted writing that graced these pages.
From a 2000 column about Alfred Hitchcock’s eye for fashion:
It’s the opening scene of “Marnie,” a back shot of Hedren on the lam in herringbone tweed, walking with the tucked-in, upright urgency of a soldier about to go AWOL. A butter-yellow leather purse filled with stolen cash is gripped protectively in the crook of her arm. The purse, with its soft, suggestive creases, beckons in nearly ludicrous contrast to the severity of Hedren’s suit and stride.
“Open me,” it whispers as the camera pulls back. “The goods are in here.”
Writing about woodworker George Wurtzel, who is blind, in 2014:
George Wurtzel whistles “Camptown Races” as a high-powered lathe hums a quarter-inch from his thumb and forefinger. Thread-thin streams of sawdust arc like an exploding firework off the small chunk of pine he is fashioning into a sombrero-shaped wine stopper, some of them landing on his “Duck Dynasty”-worthy beard.
From a 1998 story discussing one of her childhood favorites, “girl detective” Nancy Drew:
Before Emma Peel donned her Avenger’s catsuit, before Charlie’s Angels perfected their “Halt!” with a flip of the hair, before Xena let out her first warrior cry, there was Nancy, motoring around River Heights with Bess and George and a carload of -ly adverbs, chasing clues and solving crimes.
After all these years, Nancy Drew still embodies the ideal of girl detective, girl rebel, girl hero — a sister who was doin’ it for herself. ... Nancy is one of the first riot-grrl prototypes, and she’s still kicking (albeit in pumps).
From a 1998 story about the crop art exhibit at the Minnesota State Fair:
Next time I hear the word “seedy,” I’m not going to think of rundown neighborhoods or things that get stuck in your teeth. After hanging out at the Agriculture Building at the Minnesota State Fair, I’m going to think of Lillian, George and Lee.
Lillian Colton was a catalyst for the crop-art craze 35 years ago, and since then has perfected her portraiture skills using seeds, grain and nuts, creating likenesses of notables from Charles Lindbergh to David Letterman. George Nornes is the Minnesota chairman of the Future Farmers of America. Lee Hardman is an agronomist and plant geneticist with the University of Minnesota’s Extension Service. And although they show it in varying degrees, you can feel the love in the room when all three are hanging out in Seed Central at the same time.
From a 2012 profile of writer Junot Díaz:
Díaz’s conversation is literate/street, like his writing — words like “fulgurating” and “atavistic” pop up between Spanish slang, F-bombs and the adjective “dope.” He’s a word nerd who once delivered pool tables for a living, a kid from a macho ’hood who favors geek-chic specs. He’s down with the traditions of his people from the “DR” [Dominican Republic], and he’s an American-as-“Star Wars” sci-fi fanboy. He’s a cultural amalgam, the kind of American who most accurately represents what being an American now means.
From a 2002 travel story about a spa/retreat on the Grand Portage reservation in northern Minnesota:
When my friend Fawn and I took our first steps into Rick Anderson’s B&B, I smelled something I never had before, something like a mixture of freshly mowed grass and the singed sugar on a creme brulee.
Our host was waving a gently smoking strand of braided green around our quarters. I’m familiar with the custom of sage smudging, but this aroma was subtler, less acrid.
“Sage is for clearing the air,” Anderson said. “Sweetgrass is for inviting in.”
From a 2003 story about a study that ranked the literacy of various U.S. cities:
Minneapolis is the most literate city in the United States, says a new study, but St. Paul don’t read as good.
From a 2004 story about Philip Roth’s novel that reimagines a dark chapter in Charles Lindbergh’s life:
“The Plot Against America” touches a nerve here in Minnesota, where Lindbergh is a revered native son. The tall, earnest-visaged boy who slept on the porch of his family’s home in Little Falls grew up to become a renowned aviator, Time magazine’s first Man of the Year and one of the first modern media superstars.
From a 1993 story about “Seinfeld”:
As the lone woman in the group, Elaine could easily assume a posture of martyrdom and scorn. Refreshingly, there’s not a trace of tokenism or tedium in her. She’s a witty foil who loves slinging reality checks, a loyal friend who will spy on Jerry’s new love interest at the gym to see if she’s sporting breast implants, and a woman not reticent to wax rhapsodic about a sighting of John F. Kennedy Jr.’s posterior in gym shorts.
From a 2013 profile of novelist Margaret Atwood:
Atwood never takes the usual route when more interesting options are available. At 73, she sports a slate-gray mass of curls framing lively, crinkly eyes and an arch, permanently bemused expression. Though she’s written 14 novels and several dozen other books of poetry, fiction and commentary, as well as winning the Booker Prize and many others, her wide-ranging conversational topic choices make it clear that Atwood is more interested in discovery than accolades.
From a 2003 front-page story about a new line of clothes for Target by Isaac Mizrahi:
Target Corp. may be feeling the discount-apparel competition nipping at its heels, but inside an airy, 13th-floor studio in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood on Wednesday, the future looked bright — bright pink, yellow, orange and red.
From her 1998 review of a mortician’s memoir:
When my father died of cancer six years ago, my mother made arrangements for his funeral service, including a church supper to follow. The day before, she got a phone call from one of the women preparing the food.
“It says here, you want mixed frozen vegetables as the side dish,” she said. “Are you sure you wouldn’t rather have potatoes?”
“No,” said my mother. “Vegetables are fine.”
“Well,” said the woman, “I don’t want to tell you what to do, but I really think you ought to have potatoes, seeing as it’s a funeral. People really, really want potatoes at a funeral.”
“OK,” said my mom, “please just serve both.” Then she hung up and we had a good, long, grief-relief laugh.