Faces of the city are captured at the Bookmen Stacks
When developer Steve Frenz was seeking fine art for his Bookmen Stacks condominiums at 345 6th Ave. N., he needed to look no further than the building itself.
Frenz wanted photography that would complement the Stacks’ modern design, and the art enthusiast enlisted his friend, Bookmen resident and longtime photographer Tom Berthiaume to pursue some of Richard Avedon’s original black-and-white portraits.
“He told me, ‘It will break your back, but I have this idea…’” Frenz said.
The culmination of that idea, six months later, is “Imprints,” 65 portraits of Minneapolis players — from politicos like Walter Mondale and a host of city and county officials, to pickers like Willie Murphy and Leo Kottke.
The exhibit, which will become the building’s permanent collection, opens Friday, March 31, and for the next three months, Frenz invites the public to wander the Bookmen halls and common areas and get an up-close look at Berthiaume’s photos — and the Stacks themselves.
Berthiaume and Frenz met a decade ago, when both volunteered on boards in the Stevens Square and Whittier neighborhoods. Berthiaume, a current board member of the North Loop Neighborhood Association (NLNA), secured the historic photos of the 1934 Teamsters Strike that adorn Frenz’ other Bookmen campus condos, Bookmen Lofts. Berthiaume moved from the Lofts to the Stacks in December.
Berthiaume shot the black-and-white photos between September and March in a studio in the Stacks. After more than 30 years as an advertising and fashion photographer, this is his first private exhibit. It was an honor and a challenge, he said.
The photos were processed by hand, printed digitally and then framed just blocks away at Mitrebox, 514 N. 3rd St. Mitrebox owner Sara Nachreiner is also an NLNA board member.
The monochromatic portraits are perfect for the huge white walls and black carpet of the Bookmen Stacks’ open hallways, Frenz said. “It feels like a contemporary art gallery.”
The Stacks’ open, modern design was created by local architect James Dayton, who recently received one of six national Young Architects Awards from the American Institute of Architects. Dayton said the portraits complement the design of the building, his ninth Minneapolis project with Frenz.
“[Frenz] has this eye toward design that I find to be unique in the marketplace,” said Dayton. “It’s not just generic development; it’s a very holistic approach to putting an environment together.”
The building has a raw element, Frenz said, with a glass curtain wall exterior and exposed structural trusses. “You don’t have to think hard about how it holds itself up,” he said.
Likewise, Berthiuame hopes his photos capture at least a glance beyond the individual, public faades of his subjects. “The portraits attempt to find the strength, calm, charm and sometimes loneliness of real leaders and larger-than-life personalities in the community,” he said in the exhibit’s official release.
Expanding even further, Frenz said the North Loop itself reflects a “new urbanism” that is more than a buzz word. “It’s a culmination of 30-plus years of civic and arts movement,” he said. And, of the faces in the photos: “They’re the ones who made it happen.”
These are the people in your neighborhood
Though the field of faces is a varied lot of politicians, musicians, artists, writers, explorers and impresarios, all hail from an echelon of accomplishment, many of them political players, past and present. “You’d be surprised,” Berthiaume said. “These are dynamic people, but some of them are a little camera shy.” He shot them alone in an intimate setting, sole subjects against a white wall background.
Like the subjects, perhaps, all of the photos are “slightly bigger than life,” Frenz said, some of them head-to-toe shots on scale with the audience they will draw on March 31. The debut party celebrates the grand opening of the Bookmen Stacks, as well as the exhibit, from 6-9 p.m. with live music, beverages and food from D’Amico Catering. A coffee table book of the photographs will be available at the event.