Shop Visit with Isles Studio: Touring an Exotic Collection of Gifts and Décor

It’s unfortunate that the term “unique” is so often a toss-away description for shops, because Isles Studio, a small gem just off Hennepin on 25th Street, deserves the appellation. Equal parts natural history collectibles, artist-crafted ceramics, gifts, and garden and home décor, the store’s offerings range from corals to crystals to ceramic candles. But it’s the more exotic items like taxidermy toucans and artfully framed reptiles that capture the imagination.

The wonderfully eclectic collection is the vision of owner Jeff Bengtson. An experienced retailer, Bengtson swore never again when his shop Colibri closed 2007. But he was drawn to back to it. “I decided if I was going to do it, it wasn’t going to be socks and underwear,” he says. “It was going to be something I care about.”

He opted for a delicious sort of curiosity shop. His degree in biology and abiding love for science and nature—as well as design—all came to the fore in curating Isles Studio. “I’m really just trying to put beautiful works together in a weird way,” he says. “I hope to inspire people. A lot of people will [otherwise] never get this close to a dinosaur bone or a King penguin.

Bengtson’s shop exposes browsers to those and much more. The collection includes a taxidermy white peacock and numerous other birds (all died of natural causes); fossils; linckia starfish; and the art of Christopher Marley, who works with “reclaimed artifacts” (specimens that die of natural or incidental causes). His art is both beautiful and disturbing, depending on how you feel about snakes, lizards, and (even less appealing to some of us) giant beetles.

Bengtsen also searches out artists who interpret nature, in both life-like and fantastic ways. Hand-forged copper lights, made by California artist Evan Chambers, stand on hawk feet or rest on tentacles cast in bronze. Dennis and Roy Barloga’s arresting black and white photos, glicée printed on handmade paper, are simple and stunningly beautiful. Items for the home—from pillows to throws to books, cards, and an exclusive collection of John Derian wares, including Astier-de-Villatte candles.

Isles Studio will host a variety of events this spring, including a special showing Thursday, May 11th, 5-8 pm, from Wild Birds Flying, a local husband-and-wife team who create incredible photos and a avian-themed home goods. But don’t wait for a special event to visit this local treasure. Just beware: Stopping in for a quick browse can easily become an hours-long exploration of the exotic.

 

by Chris Lee

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