Entrepreneurs Find Market for Wooden Lake Maps and Other Art

On their website, entrepreneurs Harrison Blankenship and Garrett Faust sum up the origins of their artisan venture, Uptown Woodworks, as “the result of a search for a creative outlet and the need to decorate a new apartment.” Both 27, Blankenship—who grew up on Lake Minnetonka’s Lafayette Bay—and St. Paul native Faust met during college through a mutual friend and eventually became roommates. One of the interests they share is DIY projects. Blankenship, who works at a digital marketing agency, says he grew up on Lake Minnetonka “fixing things … fixing cars, building treehouses with my friends.” Faust, who graduated with a degree in mechanical engineering, grew up doing a lot of drawing. Blankenship thought about becoming an architect.

Faust’s search for a creative outlet led him to the Nordeast Makers space in northeast Minneapolis, where he started making small wood engravings and plaques for the fun of it. At the time, Faust and Blankenship were roommates in an apartment with blank walls. Faust used the cutting equipment at the maker space to craft a wooden image of the Minneapolis skyline out of wood. The striking image caught the attention of friends who visited. “They started asking for pieces for themselves and their families, and it snowballed from there,” Faust says.

Blankenship also got interested in making objects at the maker space, and the two shared photos of things they made on social media, which provoked more interest. “A lot of people got intrigued and asked us about creating stuff,” Blankenship says.

In early 2016, the duo applied their mutual interest in hockey (both are lifelong players) to the new venture. They made a laser-cut wall piece in the shape of Minnesota and engraved it with the names of the schools competing in that year’s state high school tourney. Renting a booth for five days at the Let’s Play Hockey Expo in St. Paul, they quickly sold out of their hockey-themed pieces.

To date, they’ve taken about 550 orders, including lake images (like Minnetonka, Gull Lake and the Whitefish chain) and woodcuts of the Minnesota map, Minneapolis skyline and Duluth lift bridge. They also do a lot of custom work, including business and team logos, and personal keepsakes engraved with significant dates and names.

They use reclaimed barn wood as well as wood purchased from a vendor who stresses and stains new wood to make it look aged. They say they’re interested in starting to work with metal, which some customers have asked about, too.

Of course, lake map art pieces were a logical choice for Blankenship, who grew up as a “lake rat” on Lafayette Bay. He worked summers as a dock boy and still loves spending time on the water. “It’s such a beautiful lake; it’s always been home to me. But we derive inspiration from a lot of different sources, especially the outdoors,” he says.

“We enjoy helping people bring ideas to life,” Faust says. “They can come to us with something as simple as a couple of sentences and we can help them through the design process: create a mock-up, show them what it might look like and get it made.”

One recent custom creation was a state of Minnesota cutout covered by the Swedish flag, for customer Erik Sveen, who also grew up in the lake area. “They did a great job,” says Sveen, who also commissioned a wooden walleye with a Lake Carlos logo for his parents’ cabin up north.

Another custom piece was a six-foot-wide map of Lake Minnetonka, crafted for customers Kelly and Ryan Kees of Excelsior. The couple has a two-story-high living room wall, so they needed a big piece. Blankenship and Faust used layers of acrylic in varying shades of blue to convey lake depths. “We had the vision, and they were willing to take on the project,” Kelly Kees says.

“It’s a unique and striking piece.”