How do an artist with a love of architecture and a local writer and bass player who is a self-taught architectural historian collaborate to tell the story of one of St. Paul's most historic neighborhoods?
Create a coloring book, of course.
The project was spawned by Jeanne Kosfeld's years of lunchtime visits to sketch Irvine Park's grand old homes — some built in the early 1850s. But her partnership with Richard Kronick, who has led architectural history tours of Irvine Park and other Twin Cities neighborhoods for years, gave the project its academic heft.
The result is a book featuring 18 historic homes that is as historically detailed as it is fun to take a paintbrush or colored pencil to.
"I thought, 'This is such a fun way to introduce people to an area, to a neighborhood, to an experience,' " Kosfeld said of the coloring book. "And then to learn the architecture in an almost accidental way."
She added: "It's just playful. It's not intended to be a hard-core academic book."
Maybe not, said Kronick. But the project has been vetted by some of the area's most knowledgeable experts, ensuring that the details of each home — from the Greek Revival Wright-Prendergast House to the Justus and Augusta Ohage House, a mash-up of Romanesque and Queen Anne styles — are accurate.
"We're told that in addition to how beautiful Jeanne's drawings are, this is now the most accurate history of Irvine Park that exists," Kronick said, crediting local house history expert Jim Sazevich for correcting early inaccuracies.
Anders Christensen, a local painter who serves on the board of Preserve Minneapolis with Kronick, can vouch for his bona fides.
"His knowledge of architecture is quite encyclopedic," Christensen said. "But he uses terms and explains those terms in a way that people come away with a richer understanding of buildings."
Arlene Alm, a Highland Park resident, said she and her husband are fans of old houses and the range of architectural styles in the area. Thanks to 15 to 20 of Kronick's tours throughout the Twin Cities, they've become fans of his as well. They've toured Irvine Park three times, most recently this summer, using the recently published coloring book as a study aid.
"This one was different because I had the book with me," Alm said. "The illustrations are excellent and really helpful. But I'm not going to color in it. I might give it to my grandson … but then I might not get it back."
It was taking one of Kronick's tours that persuaded Kosfeld to approach him for the project, she said.
Kosfeld, a St. Paul-based artist who once led the design department at the University of Alaska Anchorage, spent 18 years as the creative director at the Ordway Center for the Performing Arts. Over her last several years — she was there until 2015 — she spent lunch hours in Irvine Park, plopped down on boulevards and sketching the houses.
She approached Kronick in March 2020 to help ensure the coloring book, with information she'd googled about those houses, was complete and accurate. It wasn't.
Said Kosfeld: "He took a glance at it and actually discovered …"
Finished Kronick: "That I'd better rewrite this stuff."
A year's collaboration started, with Kronick, a local writer and musician who also keeps bookshelves stuffed with architectural history, providing the details to Kosfeld's illustrations.
"Neighborhood Architecture — Irvine Park St. Paul: A Coloring Book" was published in April. It is available through the Ramsey County Historical Society.
The project has convinced Kosfeld and Kronick to keep their partnership going. Another coloring book — on the history of St. Paul's Rondo neighborhood — is in the works.