Pamela Espeland attended every one of deVon Russell Gray's concerts. Over the years, the arts writer had praised, encouraged and interviewed him.
But Gray knew Espeland really liked him when she knit him a hat.
"She wrapped everything in humanness," said Gray, a composer and multi-instrumentalist. "She just understood that all art is relevant and all art is necessary in this life."
A staple of the Minnesota arts scene, Espeland was preparing for an interview when she died from a stroke at her Minneapolis home Sunday evening. She was 70.
Espeland wrote some 1,700 Artscape columns for MinnPost and regularly contributed stories to the Star Tribune, highlighting the artists she admired, the shows she anticipated and the venues she frequented.
With her husband John Whiting at her side, snapping photographs,she attended a show a night. Sometimes two.
"That's the kind of energy she had," Whiting said. "She was unstoppable."
Espeland "loved all these things she was writing about," said Lowell Pickett, founder and co-owner of the Dakota, the renowned Minneapolis venue where Espeland and Whiting were regulars, preferring booth 602 directly across from the stage. "Pamela was a wonderful spirit, a wonderful presence throughout the Twin Cities cultural community."
Since her death, artists and art-lovers have posted tributes to the warm and witty writer.
"I am gutted," wrote actor and artistic director Sara Marsh. "Pamela not only loved the arts, she loved the people who created that art, and was as invested in their human stories as she was in the stories they told through their work."
Soprano Maria Jette called her "the person who single-handedly altered the Minnesota arts scene with coverage that was deeper and more consistent than you could find anywhere else."
Espeland grew up in Glen Ellyn, Ill., and graduated from Carleton College. She freelanced for a host of publications, including Free Spirit Publishing, where she authored, coauthored or edited more than 200 books.
After years of writing pieces about jazz for MinnPost, in 2012 Espeland launched Artscape, a newsy column that covered "all manner of arts — theater, museums, music, film, festivals, dance, puppets, touring shows — you name it," she wrote earlier this year. "It sounded, um, challenging. Daunting. Impossible?"
"She started off as a lover of jazz, an expert in jazz," said Susan Albright, who recently retired as MinnPost's managing editor. "And I think at first, she was a little hesitant about taking on all these other arts subjects. But she was the kind of person who dove in and learned all she could."
She researched and interviewed, understanding an art form's complexity before capturing it with clear, conversational prose.
"She sounded like a good friend telling you what you shouldn't miss," Albright said.
Espeland was indeed a good friend. She mentored fellow arts writers, sharing insights and knitting tiny hats for their new babies. When those journalists gathered, "you definitely wanted to sit next to Pamela," said writer Sheila Regan, who covers dance for the Star Tribune. "She's got stories. She's got gossip."
Espeland "lived this life of excellence," Regan said. "It really mattered to her that the music was good, that the place was beautiful, that the food was delicious."
With coifed hair and smart pants, she "commanded the room when she entered it, like a jazz singer," Regan said. "She improvised, too. She fed off of other people, in life and in her writing."
When COVID-19 hit, battering the performing arts community, Espeland posted lengthy interviews with artists, musicians and administrators.
Structuring them as long-form conversations gave them "an emotional depth that I think was really important and even nourishing," said former arts reporter for Minnesota Public Radio and friend Marianne Combs.
"Artists knew she supported them," Combs said, "because they saw her in the audience time and time again."
In her column last week, Espeland asked: "Can you hear that growing rumbling sound? Like a distant storm, a massive train or a thousand hooves?
"That's the sound of the fall arts season moving in, of doors opening and lights turning on, musicians tuning their instruments, singers warming up, feet hitting floors, rehearsals taking place, popcorn popping, theater seats being lowered and people gathering again."
The last time she chatted with Tim Campbell, her editor at the Star Tribune, she talked about attending art openings together, he said. In person, with people.
"That was the thing she really relished — hearing people talk about things they're passionate about," he said. "Creative people. They were her bread and butter, and she sustained them just as they sustained her."
In addition to Whiting, Espeland leaves behind her son Jonah Klevesahl, daughter-in-law Chelsea Klevesahl, granddaughter Elise, sister Bobbie Espeland and stepsons Phillip and Jason Whiting and their families.
A celebration of her life will be held Tuesday, Oct. 26 at 7 p.m. at Orchestra Hall in downtown Minneapolis. National Book Award-nominated poet Marilyn Nelson, who was Espeland's best friend, and dozens of Minnesota musicians will pay tribute to the writer.
The public is welcome, but proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 PCR test within the previous 72 hours is required, and masks will be required, in keeping with Orchestra Hall's pandemic protocols.