The first time Lynn Hennings opened a business, she was 9 years old. Growing up in a big farmhouse in small-town Wisconsin, her family’s basement became the command post for homemade crafts.
Decades later, after a successful career in merchandising, she opened The Farmer’s Daughter in 2003. Though not in her sprawling farmhouse, take one step into the quaint boutique and you’d be hard-pressed to know the difference.
The scent of wood smoke and cinnamon sticks mingle, following you through the store. Customers come and go, each one greeted by name. Artists pop in, bringing with them cardboard boxes of carefully packaged stained glass and pottery and candles. It’s clear this is no ordinary boutique.
“When I opened this store, I wanted to focus on two things: making it feel like home, and spotlighting local artists,” Hennings says.
She trekked back to her childhood farmhouse and gathered an old kitchen table, weathered windows and antique pictures. They fit perfectly in her space, acting as display tables for pictures frames, candles and jewelry.
“I really believe we need to honor the past, honor where we came from,” she says, gesturing at an old cabinet. “That was my grandparents’. That’s home.”
Though her first year in business was slow, her infectious laugh and thoughtful nature attracted inquiring customers and local artists curious about her shop.
Meanwhile, Midwesterners Jeff and Carrie Thomas had just moved back to Minnesota after a 15-year stint in Florida. Looking for a new venture, they stumbled across The Farmer’s Daughter, and were both impressed and excited. The three formed a partnership in 2011, and have been so ever since.
“Whenever you start a new venture, you just have to dig deep,” Hennings says. “I needed to find artists, a tax accountant, a business mentor. But I wasn’t afraid. I knew this is what I was supposed to do.”
And as she followed her dream, she opened up the space for local creatives. She took a chance on three artisans, new to the scene, giving all of them a fulfilling second career.
“You don’t need to have all the knowledge, but you need the gift,” she says. “You need to have the artistic spirit.”
Meet the Artisans
Working full-time as a utility clerk at City Hall doesn’t leave much time for hobbies. So it wasn't until her retirement in 2007 that she came across pottery at a class at a local arts center.
“The first thing I threw looked like a very small, flat bowl,” she remembers. “I tried to make it bigger, but it was just really rough-looking. My instructor, God bless her, said it was great. I kept it. It’s still in my pottery room.”
She didn’t give up after her first attempt. In fact, quite the opposite. She was hooked. The potter now works on a wheel in what she calls her “woman cave.”
Five years after she stumbled upon this craft, she decided to show her neighbor, who just happened to be Lynn Hennings. “It was so nerve-racking bringing my work into the store for the first time,” she says. “You just hope someone else thinks the pieces are special and worth buying.”
In 2015, she sold more than 1,000 pieces. Her work ranges from traditional mugs and bowls to platter-sized hand-painted leaves.
“I can hardly keep up,” she says, smiling.
Creative energy sparks candle-maker Sara Werzel, who puts on her headphones and drowns out present-day distractions. An old-time radio show (she favors the crime dramas) catapults her back in time, where she draws much inspiration. “I love to bring some nostalgia to my candles,” she says. “Scents like gingerbread, gardenias and patchouli stir up memories for lots of people.”
Drink charms, hand-poured candles and bottlecap magnets keep Werzel’s basement brimming with creativity, though it’s taken her awhile to see herself as an artist.
“I never thought of myself as an artist. I referred to myself as a crafter,” she notes. “But I make something out of nothing. I have to reconcile that I am an artist.”
Robert “Sandy” McClure
In the 1990s, Robert “Sandy” McClure and his wife created a stained-glass piece in an adult education class. He then created a stained-glass panel, hung it near the couple’s kitchen window and thought nothing more about it.
A few years later, he revisited this could-be hobby, making birthday presents and wedding gifts for friends and family. The word was out. “Customers started coming to see me for custom orders,” he says. “I quickly went from a hobby to a business.”
A retired credit manager for a company in South St. Paul, he now can devote as much—or as little—time to his craft as he desires.