Last winter, Mary Jo Hoffman posted photos on Instagram of tea towels on which she had digitally printed some of her images from nature. “Immediately someone replied, ‘I used to work at Target. I’m forwarding this to my former boss,’ ” she recalled.
“An hour later the phone rang and the guy from Target home goods says, ‘I just spent an hour looking at your blog and it’s perfect.’ It all happened very fast.”
Thanks to the Internet, the relatively unknown amateur photographer from Shoreview has gained an international following — and now even has her own product lines for Target and West Elm.
Hoffman’s photo blog Still has been lauded by Martha Stewart Living and the influential website Design*Sponge for its minimalist look and unique take on nature photography.
Since Hoffman started Still on Jan. 1, 2010, she has posted a new, original image every day without fail, highlighting bits of nature — seed pods, twigs, feathers, bark, nests and so on — against a stark white backdrop. Collected from the area around her home, the organic materials are artfully arranged, sometimes in patterns or a grid, and draw attention to the intricate patterns and rich colors found in nature.
Design at home
The 1970s rambler Hoffman shares with her husband and two kids in the north metro is tucked away at the end of a long driveway — a secluded area where it isn’t unusual for deer to play in the backyard. Inside, the home is a modern design lover’s dream, with its vaulted ceilings, skylights and floor-to-ceiling windows. A tripod and Canon T6s camera sit in one corner next to a group of bird nests and pastel-colored eggs arranged on sheets of white poster board, a scene Hoffman has just photographed for her blog.
“They know that I do this, so they brought me some eggs,” she said of her friends who run urban farms. Hoffman collected the nests along the five Shoreview trails she frequents during her daily walks with her dog Jack — “usually after storms, they get knocked down,” she said.
Hoffman’s bedroom doubles as a makeshift photo studio, where the white bedding, minimalist decor and salvaged-wood bed frame act as a backdrop for her new line of wall art for West Elm. Thirty-six of her images are printed on clear acrylic in matte-gold metal frames that were released on the furniture and home decor store’s website last week.
Meanwhile, her 50-piece collection of bedding, tapestries, shower curtains and decorative pillows debuted on Target.com on Friday, and is slated to hit Target stores in April. It features imagery such as parallel lines of birch tree branches, a scattered array of feathers, a bundle of green flora and fauna, a neat row of fall leaves and twigs arranged to form the alphabet.
Pretty and/or interesting
Still is the latest Minnesota blog to make it onto Target’s radar, following Kate Arends’ lifestyle blog Wit & Delight, which was tapped for a collection of party goods in 2014.
Hoffman got the idea for Still from Lisa Congdon’s popular blog A Collection a Day, which featured neatly arranged collections of vintage ephemera. “I thought a daily little creative thing like that would be fun and keep the creative juices running,” said Hoffman, who worked as a Honeywell aerospace engineer before becoming a stay-at-home mom.
Hoffman admitted that January, February and early March are the most challenging months of the year for Still, when the novelty of snow has worn off and there isn’t much to photograph.
“Going into spring, we’re a whole month behind,” she laughed. “The whole world is doing crocuses and tulips and cherry blossoms, while I just keep posting twigs.”
The criteria she looks for when gathering raw materials to photograph are shape, color, form and texture.
“I want it to be pretty, and if it’s not pretty, I want it to be interesting,” she said. “It’s a bonus if it’s both.”
Jahna Peloquin is the style editor of Minnesota Monthly and a freelance writer and stylist in the Twin Cities.