The passions and purpose of artist Heinz Brummel

Heinz Brummel relaxing outside of his home studio. Photo by Susan Schaefer

THE ECONOMIC IMPACT OF THE CREATIVE ARTS IN MINNEAPOLIS ASTONISHES. Estimated at over $4.5 billion in sales, or eight times that of Minneapolis’ sports sector according to the 2015 Creative Vitality Index (CVI), an economic measure used by the city, it has earned our region a lofty place as a national creative mecca.

Behind such stunning statistics, however, often toil humans whose creativity and innovation fuel this so-called “creative class.” Named after author Richard Florida’s 2002 groundbreaking book, “The Rise of the Creative Class,” the lifestyles and ethos of these creatives do not necessarily echo these economics.

Frequently laboring for the sheer love of their craft, many visual and performing artists, directors, inventors and innovators, produce from an inner creative core more likely fueled by passion than personal gain. These makers are marked by an almost holy drive to create — and when their artistry and intent collide, it often yields something extraordinary in its wake.

At a recent fundraiser in the North Loop, a small grouping of well- dressed, well-groomed women congregate in a tight circle. Gesturing at each other’s ears and chests, nodding knowingly and smiling broadly, all are members of the unofficial but pervasive “Heinz Brummel jewelry fan club.” In the group a prominent local artist and a well-known corporate executive compare notes: “I didn’t know Heinz made those in black,” the artist animatedly chimes about Brummel’s heart-shaped, enamel and silver earrings — which both sport, though in different colors.

This scene is repeated at Twin Cities gath- ering after gathering, particularly amongst celebrants of a certain age. Wearing a Heinz Brummel design to an affair is a status symbol and guaranteed icebreaker — common ground via wise adornment. In certain circles it is impossible to attend a function without a handful of Brummel “sightings.” Why, even the gents don his creations, particularly his iconic peace symbol neckwear in burnished silver. These are so celebrated that touring cast members of the Broadway musical “Hair” playing in Minneapolis in the summer of 2004 special ordered 50 of them!

His style is unique, decidedly structural, timeless and unmistakable: most pieces are precision crafted, crisp geometric shapes with bold primary red, yellow, blue and black enamel elements set in flawless silver bezels — always lamentably enticing. Others contain semiprecious stones, have whimsical whirligigs, intricate locks and dangling pearl clasps — literally wearable artworks reflecting the inspiration of the Bauhaus, Calder, Klee and Miro. Women and men who purchase his art undoubtedly understand that each piece is an investment. A legacy. Without doubt, Brummel’s handicrafts have contributed to the fabled CVI.

Though predominately self-trained, referring to himself as a blue-collar studio artist, Brummel’s confections have been carried widely in prestigious, highly discriminating museum shops and fine galleries. He won robust recognition in the early ’80s through the American Crafts Council’s annual St. Paul show; soon, the Walker Art Museum shop and others were carrying his wares.

Like his creations, Brummel is precision crafted from head to toe, tall, striking — a perfect example of Midwestern gals’ notions of a “long tall drink of water.” Hailing from Milwaukee, where his German immigrant parents landed in the early ’50s, Brummel inherited some of his innate design skills from his architecturally trained draughtsman father. He dabbled in some architecture courses himself at the University of Wisconsin, Green Bay, but was also attracted to other visual and performing arts. With the winds of exploration rippling his imagination, Brummel left Green Bay, taking a number of years to discover his European heritage, first working odd jobs in Germany, then finally settling in a bucolic French countryside farmhouse, living communally and pastorally on the land, raising animals, growing food. It was there that he met an itinerant French jeweler who inspired what would become his lifelong trade.

His spirit and intellect redolent with European sensibilities, Brummel returned stateside, eventually landing in Minneapolis and enrolling in a metalsmithing course at the University of Minnesota. Trite but true, the rest is history.

The early 1980s were the dawning of Minne- apolis’ “golden age” arts revival, when the North Loop, NOLO, was simply the Warehouse District, and artists lived in abandoned spaces, some legal and some not. Like many of his creative comrades, Brummel participated full throttle in this wild and vibrant scene, setting up a formal studio arts space in the Traffic Zone. Now NOLO and Northeast Minneapolis are nationally recognized arts districts credited with fueling a creatively vital economy.

Years back, Brummel pulled up stakes from this scene, setting up a serious home studio in the edgy 50th & Chicago neighborhood. And while his work is still in fashion and sought after, the man behind the work claims his muse has guided him to new territories.

Like many highly successful art-makers, Brummel says that he never “really thought much about the economics of art,” even though it supported a wife and two sons throughout their childhood. Now, amicably divorced with both of his sons grown (one following his father’s footsteps, exploring Germany) his primal instinct to be a good provider is quenched.

“It was never my goal to become a ‘market- place’ artist making commodities for stores. Yet, that is what happened,” he reflects. “I simply liked to make things. That was alchemy. Mystery and magic. I didn’t choose it as métier — rather, it chose me. My art is unequivocally a spiritual thing, deep down in my DNA.”

With a healthy inventory and still-vibrant following, he sought a means to rekindle that passionate spark, embarking on a new enter- prise that melded his architectural talents, building skills, environmental awareness and transcendent urges. He turned to yurt-making. Yes, as in Mongolian and Tibetan yurts: circular fabric-draped, teepee-like abodes that fold down to be carried to new locations when climate and necessity dictate. His Chicago Avenue backyard boasts a full-scale model, perfect for a personal retreat, parties and guests, not to mention serving as a sample of his work. He has constructed and sold a few for various clients.

Brummel recreated his own bit of that former French countryside at his South Minneapolis home, which is now part workshop, part sustainable gardens, part yurt construction staging area and part soup-making kitchen.

“All in all, I’d rather be concocting steaming pots of delicious, healthy soup, discussing philosophy, politics, art, nature, animals and love with friends. After all, art is a quest for love,” he reassures.

Brummel’s is a bungalow where friends and clients are welcomed with graciousness and hospitality, and where he forges more than metal in his studio, but also conversation and congeniality.

Find his work: Brummel’s wares are carried at The Grand Hand Gallery, 619 Grand Ave., St. Paul, and on his website: