The Northrup King Building has become an institution, its nearly 300 artists woven into the fabric of the northeast Minneapolis arts scene.
But the sprawling 1917 complex is far from unchanging. In the past year, the building has added 20 new studio spaces, said Debbie Woodward, the building manager. Another 12,000 square feet will be renovated and carved into studios soon.
New tenants have brought energy and, in one case, tension — a longtime gallery owner is protesting a gun rights advocate moving his consulting company into a first-floor space. Meanwhile, sculptors, painters, designers and jewelry-makers have been preparing for the annual Art Attack, a building-wide event which runs Friday through Sunday. This year’s theme, “It’s About Peace and Love,” is a nod to the respite art can provide from this political season’s turmoil, Woodward said.
But some of Northrup King’s new artists are taking on those politics, engaging in conversations around Black Lives Matter and the pipeline protests at Standing Rock Indian Reservation. Consider this weekend’s event your chance to get an early look at what they’ve been creating in this one-time seed warehouse.
Here, we offer glimpses of two women who use their work to talk about social issues and identity — one through portraits, the other through textiles.
Leslie Barlow, Studio 244
The faces of Leslie Barlow’s friends and family stare at you from every corner of her light-filled studio. Two sisters standing in a cornfield. Barlow’s grandmothers sitting beside one another. Barlow herself, split in two.
Barlow’s colorful, dynamic portraits rarely depict a single image of one person. Instead, she paints pairs of people — or two versions of the same person. “I’m trying to get at the complexities of our lived experiences,” she said.
Those complexities include race. Barlow, who is mixed race, often paints people of color, exploring issues around multiculturalism and identity. During a monthlong residency at Whitworth University in Spokane, Wash., Barlow painted two portraits of her younger brother, a Minneapolis police officer. In one, he wears his police uniform. In the other, he grins in a Captain America hoodie, holding a shield.
“I’m interested in the tension between being a person of color and a person on the police force,” said Barlow, 27, who recently earned an MFA from the Minneapolis College of Art and Design. Her brother, Daniel, “really wants to help people,” she said, but he’s joined a profession she feels has a troubling history. Beside one another, the paintings “show the tension and complexity of that identity,” she said. “At the same time, I wanted to put these two costumes next to each other.”
Barlow, who moved into her Northrup King studio in May, recently won a $10,000 grant from the Minnesota State Arts Board to paint interracial couples and families, a series inspired by Loving v. Virginia, the landmark 1967 decision by the U.S. Supreme Court that struck down laws prohibiting interracial marriage.
Barlow wants her work to draw attention to just how recently laws targeted people of color, she explained. “My parents were kids during that time.”
Maggie Thompson, Studio 375
Spools of colorful thread sit atop most surfaces in Maggie Thompson’s studio, alongside knitting machines and tucked behind a massive floor loom.
On a recent afternoon, she pulled a new batch of quilting squares from her bag, arranging them on a table. Thompson, a 27-year-old textile artist and designer, has been asking people to write their wishes on these squares, which she’ll eventually turn into a massive quilt covering 4,000 square feet. She has collected them in Minneapolis, Taiwan and at Standing Rock Indian Reservation, where she trekked last week to participate in the protests.
“Unite our hearts and minds,” someone scrawled on one. “Balance,” another read. “Honor our culture.”
During Art Attack, visitors to her studio can contribute to the quilt or participate in group sewing sessions: This weekend’s run 7 to 9 p.m. Friday and 6 to 8 p.m. Saturday.
Thompson, a member of the Fond du Lac Band of Ojibwe, grew up in the Northrup King Building. Her mother, a painter, moved into her third-floor studio when Thompson was in grade school. Thompson grew up knitting and, while at the Rhode Island School of Design, switched her focus from architecture to textiles.
Her fine art has been lauded for its exploration of Native American identity and family history. But Thompson missed designing. So two years ago, she started Makwa Studio — “Makwa” means bear in the Ojibwe language. The patterns and colors in her cozy scarves and cowls reflect Native traditions of beadworking and lazy stitch. With its clean, structural design, her bright “backbone” design also draws on her architectural skills.
“I wanted to create wearable art, wearable pieces,” Thompson said, “to create accessibility to my work, rather than just doing fine art all the time.”