December 16, 2014
One of Minneapolis’s favorite and ever so humble couples, Max and Johnna Holmgren of Bear Fox Chalk, seem to be familiar with taking risks. “You just have to be bold enough to put yourself out there.” Their success within the last three years is no surprise, as more of Minneapolis is now appreciating handmade art and locally owned businesses.
We are Max and Johnna Holmgren, the husband and wife duo behind Bear Fox Chalk. We have been together now for 10 years. We were married in a lovely outdoor setting in 2010 and welcomed our greatest joy, Luella Beane into the world in 2012. We have lived in or nearby Minneapolis for most of our lives. Max grew up in Marine on St. Croix and Johnna in Woodbury. While we both knew of the creative culture in the city when we were younger, it wasn’t until we started Bear Fox Chalk that we truly appreciated all that Minneapolis, the Twin Cities area, and even Minnesota had to offer.
Bear Fox Chalk started in 2011 after Max had his first experience with chalk as artistic medium. He first took on a large chalkboard menu at a stationary and paper goods store that Johnna was managing at the time. She helped him with the layout and design. This was the first time Max had found an outlet to use both lettering and illustration on a large scale and in a non-digital format – he kinda hates computers. Fast forward a few months and Max is asked to create some chalkboard backdrops for a wedding fair booth. Johnna again collaborated with the designs and construction of the boards. The response at the show was tremendous and for the first time, we actually believed there could be a chalk lettering and illustration company in Minnesota. Our heads were spinning with all the ideas and possibilities that a simple chalkboard and a piece of chalk presented us. A few weeks later we had put together a small portfolio, a website, and signed up for a different wedding fair with a booth for Bear Fox Chalk. The show went amazingly well and allowed us to get BFC’s name out into the public. It was scary but the risk paid off.
While weddings got us into the creative chalk world, three years later we have expanded to work with huge corporations, created countless smaller pieces for people’s homes, and had the pleasure working with many of the incredible local companies and small businesses that Minneapolis offers. We have been doing Bear Fox Chalk full time for a year and a half now, with Johnna handling social media, branding, marketing, and design, and Max doing the actual chalk work.
In our opinion, Minneapolis is the perfect place to pursue a business like BFC. It’s forward thinking enough for a majority of people to “get” what we are trying to do, but not too large of a city that our voice can not be heard. That is why Minneapolis is so great: it’s a hotbed of creativity with endless opportunities to collaborate (not to mention people who actually want to collaborate) and the city is just the right size. Big enough to promote competitiveness, yet small enough for creatives to stand a chance at success. You just have to be bold enough to put yourself out there. Minneapolis culture has allowed us to really enjoy the journey and process of seeing ourselves grow and become more skilled each and every year at our craft. This allows us to actually have fun at each stage of our business and simply enjoy the act of creating. In a larger city we may fall in to the trap of creating as a means to an end and making desperate decisions while getting impatient for “success” and “attention”, instead of focusing on what really matters.
One of our favorite new shops in Minneapolis is Shinola. We love their focus on American and hand-made products, their attention to detail, and the overall aesthetic of the store. It’s inspiring to be in their space. There are so many talented individuals and local companies to admire in this city. We have come to know some amazing people in the three years since we started Bear Fox Chalk. These are people who love creating and helping others create. That’s the most encouraging thing about this place; most of the artists, designers, and makers love their craft, so they enjoy seeing others love their craft as well. That’s pretty rare and special. We just may have picked the best locale for two self-taught, college dropouts to start a business playing around with chalk for a living!