The Weekend Tourist // An Art-A-Whirl extravaganza

Art-A-Whirl was founded in 1995 by a group of artists who felt there weren’t enough opportunities in Minneapolis to showcase their work. Today the event has grown to more than 50 locations spotlighting works of several hundred artists and is one of the largest art shows of its kind in the country. There’s even a trolley to shuttle nearly 30,000 visitors expected throughout the weekend. 

One of Art-A-Whirl’s founding members continues to be part of the annual May extravaganza with a massive celebration of her own. For most of the year, Lisa Elias works diligently in her quaint, one-story metal shop. In the sparse room, with tools neatly lined up in a row, she crafts metal projects that range from small delicate pieces of jewelry to 400-foot-long railings. Her Art-A-Whirl festivities have been legendary. This year’s event will include guest artists, eight bands, a life-size chess game, a wrestling ring, local beer and duck fat french fries. 

Lisa grew up in a family of creatives. Seven of the nine children are in creative careers today. Sister Meg performed with Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey Circus and is now the founder and artistic director of Xelias Aerial Arts Studio — across the street from Lisa’s studio. After receiving a studio arts degree from the University of Minnesota, Lisa studied with master glass artist Dale Chihuly in Washington state. She made her own blown glass shades and vases that were held in place with Art Nouveau-inspired metal work. Eventually she abandoned glasswork to concentrate on metals. 

Lisa considers her work to be functional art. She makes door handles, curtain rods, candle holders, garden tools, topiary, lamps, chandeliers, wall sconces, bird baths, benches and railings. She sells work in galleries, works with designers and architects, and wins public art commissions. Her work can be seen all over the metro area including these projects: 

“The Field,” tree corrals, tree grates, and bike racks (along Marquette and 2nd avenues between 5th and 10th streets)

Drinking fountain (in pocket park on 2nd Avenue at 9th Street)

Minneapolis City Hall rotunda window grilles (first floor)

Butler Square signage and window boxes along 1st Avenue

Loring Bikeway Project, 400-foot-long railing (Lyndale Avenue at 94)

“Forged Roots” bench (Raymond near University Avenue)

Mystic Lake Casino 

Crema Cafe’s patio gates and grillwork (3403 Lyndale Ave. S.)

Little Earth Neighborhood Early Learning Center welcome gate (2438 18th Ave. S.)

Lisa’s work is so loopy and curvaceous it looks like it was easily squeezed out of a tube. But it wasn’t. The metal is heated to about 500 degrees then hammered with brute strength and forced into a shape that’s drawn on the concrete floor in chalk. It’s a struggle of power and strength and Lisa usually wins. Whether they’re on a tabletop or in a landscape, her graceful, arching, forms meld with the environment and reflect hard-to-find, old-world craftsmanship.

To see a MN Originals film showing Lisa in action, visit

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