Tucked away, around the corner and down the block on Front Street in Walker, is a store so unique and somewhat unexpected that it could be called a “hidden gem.”
Hidden, only because it’s a block off Walker’s main shopping area; but a “gem” because of what’s inside.
The Peculiar Painter is the type of store where, once shoppers discover it, they share the news excitedly, almost secretively with friends and family: “You won’t believe the place I found in Walker!”
The Peculiar Painter may not be hidden, but it certainly is a “gem.” Owner Jessie Townsdin Stolzman opened the store nearly eight years ago, offering original paintings, art supplies and other artistic creations, with a focus on Northern Minnesota. The shop also carries a diverse selection of Modern Scandinavian gifts, decorative accessories and other products, and more.
When Jessie moved to her parents’ home town after 11 years in Idaho, she was “ready to reset and be near family,” she describes. Jessie’s grandparents Stan and Gerry Peterson owned and ran Northwood Beach Motel and Camper’s Landing on Oak Point and her parents, Jim and Amy Townsdin also grew up in the area, moving back in 2008 after retiring.
“My favorite memories are of working and playing at Camper’s Landing,” she reminisces. “There is a lot of family history here.”
Jessie earned her BS degree in illustration and graphic design with a fine arts minor at BSU. After college she worked as a graphic designer for Lake Country Journal Magazine for two years, then moved to northern Idaho to work for Coldwater Creek as a photographer’s assistant and then graphic designer with the retail merchandising team.
When she returned to Walker in December of 2012, a small retail space at 405 Front Street happened to be available. “It had an apartment upstairs, and I could visualize a gallery [downstairs] and a home here,” she recalls. Things quickly fell into place for her to try her hand at a retail business. Nearly eight years later, she says she’s “happy I made the choice to set up shop in Walker.”
Then life took another happy, unexpected turn. A year after opening the store, she met her husband, Matt Stolzman, a forester with the US Forest Service. The couple married in 2015 and now lives north of Walker in a house her grandparents built with their very active, talkative 4-year-old son.
Jessie notes that the store’s name, Peculiar Painter, might mislead some as to what the shop carries.
“We have a lovely selection of fine art painting and drawing materials, as well as original paintings, mostly on canvas, in all sizes. Most of our paintings are subjects of nature and scenes that represent northern Minnesota and lake living. We currently represent four painters, all with ties to this area.”
Along with the artwork and art supplies, Peculiar Painter carries an enticing selection of Modern Scandinavian items, both functional and decorative: everything from Scandinavian hats to Swedish table runners, textiles and rugs; Danish iron candle holders, Norwegian jewelry, glass from Finland; and rosemaling.
“With all the Scandinavian influences in this area, it only seems natural to carry Scandinavian products,” she notes.
Many of the handmade pieces are created by Minnesota artists, including locally-made jewelry, pottery and stained glass. With the COVID-19 pandemic affecting art festivals, Peculiar Painter was able to pick up some artists, including Maple Grove stained glass artist Mac McMillan.
“His stained glass stars and snowflakes are going to make treasured holiday gifts,” Jessie predicts. “We are proud of all the artists we carry.”
Since COVID hit last March, Jessie has limited store capacity to three or four people at a time.
“Having a small space has actually helped during COVID times, although I dream of having more space one day. I’d hang larger paintings and have the space to lay out tables with all the wonderful textiles and pottery, to display it properly.”
But for now, she’s just thankful to be open — and for the help of her mom, Amy Townsdin, whom she calls her main support, taking care of bookkeeping, bringing in beautiful flower arrangements all summer, and running the store on Sundays and Mondays.
September has always been Jessie’s favorite month to have a retail store. “This is the time that girlfriends, sisters, mother and daughters are out shopping. They are taking time for themselves; treating themselves to a nice candle or scarf, or something new to decorate their space. I love seeing that.”
Last November, just before COVID-19 hit, Peculiar Painter started working with Next Innovations of Walker.
“We love the collaboration of working with a local business to print custom pieces,” Jessie says. “Their ability to print color vibrant on steel has been a wonderful addition. When we were closed this spring due to COVID, they approached us to sell our designs on their website https://metalartmaker.com/product-category/artist-series/the-peculiar-painter/.
“This is a nice outlet — especially in these peculiar times!”
Peculiar Painter’s fall schedule is Wednesday through Saturday, 10:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Swedish Glogg (spiced cider) and ginger cookies will be arriving soon. Sunday hours will be added closer to the holidays.
For more information call (218) 547-3729 (DRAW), visit the website at http://peculiarpainter.com or find Peculiar Painter on Facebook and Instagram.