My Minnesota: Bryan Schaap, rock artist

  • Updated: July 19, 2014 - 4:34 PM

A large carving of the Red Owl logo showed up at the office the other day, with a card that said Bryan Schaap, Stone Art. Curious to see whether this would be followed by a life-size Piggly Wiggly in marble, a call was placed to Schaap to interview him about his craft.

A Pipestone native and retired hydrologist, Schaap says he’s been interested in rocks since he was a kid, and liked to work with them when he could. “I grew up not far from the Jeffers Petroglyphs,” he notes, home to carvings of humans and animals that date back 7,000 to 9,000 years.

“Visiting those sites as a kid, I thought, thousands of years ago someone was willing to sit there with one hard rock and pound on another hard rock.”

Most people would leave it at that and try not to find a metaphor for their own workplace, but Schaap decided to try doing it himself.

He’s done a big rock carving for the Cloquet library — a maze design that could be mistaken for the work of the ancients, except for the pictograph of a person reading a book in the center. And he’s done markers for trails you might have passed on a hike through the wilds of Minnesota.

“There’s a trail from Carlton to Cloquet that used to be a railroad bed. We put different rocks with different hobo symbols.” Ah, the other lost pictograph lingo — signs that told other men who rode the rails that the local cops were mean or that the nice lady on the edge of town would give you a meal for chores.

“It’s another form of communication that’s mostly gone — even at the time, it was never meant to be permanent. They used charcoal or chalk; next time it rained it was gone.”

No more.

His markers can also be found along the Ice Age Trail, where they will outlast any other sort of sign.

“With rocks, you don’t have to worry about them being carried away by beavers, or burned. A rock can be helpful. People can sit on it,” he added, which you can’t say about a pole with a sign on it.

Not too many people are carving ancient pictograms into rock to occupy themselves, so he might have the field to himself. The go-to guy for ancient pictograms — with the occasional twist. He put a mosquito in one big slab, so perhaps future archaeologists may believe we worshiped the bloodsuckers.

Then again, they might be confused by the giant angry Red Owl, if they find that buried in a landfill.

Not that it should ever be thrown away: Schaap’s work will last for ages.

James Lileks

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