Published December 31st, 2023 by Cory Eull
The collaborative studio in Northeast Minneapolis curates feeling, pulsating spaces out of words, wool, wood, stone, and steel
The objects in the room brew something like nostalgia within you. Coats suspend from the ceiling, the curved body of petrified wood poises itself on a pedestal, a massive butcher block hovering a few inches from the ground named “Cecelia the Mountain” demands your heart and attention. You thread yourself through the fixtures in the room and see that poetry is written into all of it, both literally and symbolically. Whoever these artists are, they can’t help but make things out of feeling, and they can’t help but make us feel as well.
Tactile yet performative, Three Circle Shop’s most recent show When The Moon Was Home blurred the distinction between art and craft to the point of something new. On view last month at Cuningham on the Saint Anthony Main riverfront, some of the works from the show are now up through the end of January at Moth Oddities’ sister gallery Moth Studios in Northeast. Tyler Hoffart’s and Nick Smith’s butcher blocks are interactive with notes that beg the viewer to “slap me” and “rub me,” and Marah Harings’ hand-felted wool coats prod gently with a “tell me something sweet.” After an hour spent moving through the show and reading all the stories included with each piece, you wonder if you knew Tyler’s dad Sam, because you feel his loss as though you did. Sam was a lifelong farmer in South Dakota who was killed in February of 2022 by a drunk driver. When The Moon Was Home was the trio’s wholehearted tribute to his love.
Seeing the completed, exhibited work of Three Circle Shop and experiencing its gravity, I knew I needed to write about them. And before even getting myself over to Saint Anthony Main to see the show, I could tell from the way they approach social media as playful archivists instead of drumbeat marketers that they were different. Tyler, Nick, and Marah are aware that they don’t fit in — like the 12 year old boy with limbs lankier than the rest of the junior high gym class, Three Circle Shop hit puberty early, and just three and a half years in they’re realizing they have to make their own rules in order to have fun, make profit, and make meaning. And like that metaphorical preteen, they shirk definition, in a rebellious way but also in a way that forces them to make space for themselves as artists trying to wrangle a career. They hustled for a couple years doing commissions and attending Christmas markets, trying to find ways to make it work.
Top: Cecelia the Mountain, a sculptural butcher block. Bottom: When The Moon Was Home, hand-felted and -stitched coat. Photos by Irelynd.
“We're trying to come up with a different idea on how to sell art. We want to change the way people think about art and art shows in Minneapolis,” Marah says. Trying to squeeze themselves into a preexisting model for selling art was both unfruitful and unfulfilling, so this last year while mourning Sam’s death, the three tried something new.
Tyler decided to use the life insurance money from Sam’s death to invest in Three Circle Shop. They used it to fund a year of making, a year that would breed When The Moon Was Home. They worked out of Tyler and Marah’s home in Northeast Minneapolis. The idea was that they would use the bulk of the year to create a fleet of objects that contribute to a theme of strong feeling and purpose, and then the year would culminate in an open studio and a show.
“I think that the themes of When the Moon Was Home came about because of the themes of us as people,” says Tyler, “which are: family, love, bringing people in, and surrounding ourselves with people who are like minded, who are working hard to remain open, to keep their heart open while making beautiful things to put out into the world. And then it’s just remembering, remembering each other and those who help bring us here. I think those themes will absolutely continue.”
While talking through their business model, Tyler smacks his callused hand down onto “Sam the Owl,” one of the butcher blocks perched next to where we were seated and says, “I’m trying to have this be a superstar.” He and Marah believe in the power of the work but explain how the hardest part with this first show has been getting people with deeper pockets into the gallery, collectors who will be just as affected by the work but also be able to afford it. With the show finishing its run earlier this month at Cuningham, they're confident that what was created this last year will integrate naturally into what’s next.
Top: Tyler Hoffart and Nick Smith in the woodshop. Bottom: Marah Harings in her home studio. Photos by Ami Diep, courtesy of Three Circle Shop.
On an average day this last year, Tyler would wake reeling with ideations and anxieties about the day and try to hone focus by answering emails, drinking coffee, and avoid spilling his consciousness onto Marah, who likes to move at a slower, more steadied pace in the mornings. By noon, Nick would come over and join Tyler in the woodshop. The two met as route setters at Minneapolis Bouldering Project, and working that job together really informed the way they collaborate. While they cut and glue and clamp and sand through the afternoon, sometimes attaching reclaimed river trash or corrugated metal onto a butcher block sculpture, they call upon the intimate working relationship at the climbing gym from a few years prior.
"Route setting requires high levels of movement study, puzzle solving, and visual appeal," says Tyler. "Working together within this cocktail of skillset forces constant creativity. It's exhausting, but it's beautiful. Being able to work with someone like family in that setting was a true gift."
In the meantime, Marah would work solo in her sun porch studio. Washing, spinning, weaving, or felting wool, she stretches time while making progress on whichever project is currently at hand.
"The best work days are the ones with no beginning, middle or end," she says. "When I don't schedule myself into a box, and can instead bump into each project at exactly the moment I need to. Accidental inspiration is my favorite technique, and the reason I work on a few projects at the same time. I expand into the freedom of variety; that's where golden ideas live."
After the three conclude their day’s work, Tyler and Marah share in the ritual of mixing a whiskey and going on a walk with their three hounds. It’s often the most important time of the day for them, to process what they’re creating or to just be together, especially since they both value time in solitude. In Tyler’s words, “She and I are introverts at heart and we need to be alone to charge. If we don’t get alone time, it’s not any good… Alone time is so precious”.
Top: Then, Before Us, an original hand-felted coat. Photo by Ami Diep. Bottom: Moon Drop Mia, a sculptural side table. Photo by Irelynd.
Sitting down to talk with Tyler and Marah in their new gallery space at Moth Studio, I see how relatable they are, in their individuality and in their relationship. Tyler cares so much he’s restless, and probably too caffeinated. Marah holds herself with patience and dignity, acting as a grounding force for the both of them.
"Three Circle Shop began in an old pig barn," Tyler explains. After meeting at the beginning of 2020 before the pandemic hit, Tyler and Marah found themselves just a few months later — newly unemployed thanks to Covid — holed up at his dad’s farm in Dallas, South Dakota, building a garden, a chicken coop, and a climbing wall in an old horse trailer. Eager to set up a woodshop, Tyler cleaned up the pig barn, built a shop table, and started using the unemployment checks to buy tools. He went to his mom and said he needed an idea for something to build, and she suggested he make her a butcher block. His first block, Momma's Delight, led to the next one for an old friend. The third went to his Aunt Marla. Three Circle Shop was born.
The name was inspired by a passage about circles in the book Black Elk Speaks, and since then the three circles have taken on layered meaning, sometimes symbolizing the three makers in collaboration, sometimes the idea of past, present, and future represented in one place. They appreciate the meaning of the name being somewhat elusive and refractory because each piece produced similarly takes on new form, down to the unique version of the "OOO" embedded in each.
A lot of evolution happens when trying new thing after new thing — which is a predicament when it comes to marketing something that doesn’t stay the same. You’re trying on different modes of working, using new materials and tools, and asking how to make that fact of change something that is appealing to others. The grind is real for Three Circle Shop, but even within it they allow themselves to dream big in order to make the next step possible. They have a way of making room for their own growth — a preemptive, meditative way to see and prove their own potential.
Throughout our interview I notice how these artists ask a lot of questions, and the planning seems to be in the questions. I used to have a dance professor who called all movement research, suggesting that any time you ask a question and then live or move through the viewfinder of that question, you are researching and opening yourself to answers. And that seems to be the way Tyler, Nick, and Marah operate as artists: What if we tried this? What is too much? Where do we find balance? The three help each other seek center when leaning too far into one question, because they know the dance of the wildly determined creative requires support. I want to see them choreograph a dance with installation as a key part of the set. I want to see Marah’s coats walking themselves down a runway at a Three Circle Shop fashion show. I want to see all the ways this troupe crafts timeless, undeniable sums greater than their respective parts.
“I think I’m just always looking for that, I’m always digging for that, I’m always looking to do something that has undeniable feeling," says Tyler. "Like you just walk into a room, and you don’t even have a choice.” And it’s true, you don’t. They’ll both tie a knot in your throat and wrap you in something warm. In one breath they’ll remind you of love and loss and what lives between. With every bevel and weave and word, Three Circle Shop is determined to compel us in a myriad of multimedia ways. ◼︎
Sam The Owl, a sculptural butcher block. Photo by Irelynd.
The remaining pieces from When the Moon Was Home are on display at Moth Studios, 13 5th St NE, Minneapolis, through the end of January. Gallery hours are Mondays 11am – 6pm, Wed – Sat 11am – 6pm, and Sundays 11am – 5pm.
Banner image courtesy of Three Circle Shop. Photo by Ami Diep.
This activity is made possible by the voters of Minnesota through a grant from the Metropolitan Regional Arts Council, thanks to a legislative appropriation from the arts and cultural heritage fund.
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