Little frame shop in Rogers draws interest from around the country
by Britt Aamodt
Special to the Star News
That day had a feel to it like something was about to happen.
Chris Knutson unlocked Art Barbarians, his business in Rogers. Something he’d been doing nearly every day since 2004, when he transformed an old Subway sandwich shop into a frame store and wildlife gallery behind a rustic cabin façade.
Only today was a Sunday. Technically the store was closed. Knutson used the day to catch up.
But then a customer stood in the door. A man from St. Michael Knutson knew by name.
He knows many customers by name.
Could he look around, the St. Michael man wanted to know.
Sure, come on in, Knutson said, though part of his brain must have been off somewhere in cyberspace. Because even as he engaged with the customer, he was eyeballing his Art Barbarians website.
Web hits were racking up like game points. Knutson had never seen anything like it in over a quarter century of doing business.
People from across the country suddenly wanted to check out a little frame store and art gallery in Rogers, Minnesota — why?
The answer to that question involves an ex-governor, a duck stamp and a film crew.
In 1997, Knutson and his brother-in-law pooled talents and resources to take a stab at selling wildlife art. They didn’t have a storefront so they traveled town to town, following the summer county fair circuit.
One day they found themselves in, possibly, Wright County. They were working their fair booth when a colossus with a chin dimple and peppery mustache walked up.
“It was Jesse Ventura,” Knutson said. “He was running for governor. And he saw my brother-in-law Jim and decided to come over.”
Jim was a weight lifter and built like a truck, something he had in common with the former wrestler. Yet instead of bodybuilding, Ventura ended up chatting wildlife art. He liked what he saw in the booth. But really hated the business name.
“What a stupid name,” Knutson remembers the future Minnesota governor saying.
“A.J.’s Vending? Are you kidding me? Look at what you guys are selling. You can do better than that.”
Later that summer, at yet another county fair, the art dealers scored a booth next to Ventura’s.
When he showed up, they handed him a list of names. They wanted him to choose the best.
Ventura scoffed at The Lost Acorn. Seriously? He continued down the list.
“Then finally he says, ‘I got it. I don’t need to go any further. Art Barbarians. Competition will run from you. Customers will run to you.’”
So when Knutson and his brother-in-law set up shop in Rosedale Center, it was as Art Barbarians, a name that stood out from the pack.
In the late 1990s, before the internet really took off, galleries seemed to be on every corner. Canadian Robert Bateman, one of the best-known wildlife artists in the world, had thousands of offers for live appearances. But he chose Art Barbarians because he loved the name.
Then there were the Hautmans, Joe, Bob and Jim, three brothers originally from St. Louis Park who between them have built what some have dubbed a Duck Dynasty. Together they have won the annual Federal Duck Stamp competition 14 times. The last time this year with youngest brother Jim’s “Redheads.”
Knutson was selling Hautman originals and prints even before he moved the shop to Rogers.
So, of course, when “CBS Sunday Morning” wanted to feature the brothers, they came knocking on Knutson’s door.
A crew flew out to film the brothers in their studios and Knutson in his gallery of wildlife paintings by the Hautmans and other artists.
The segment aired June 26. Knutson caught his brief cameo.
The film crew was “here for seven hours and I was on for a total of seven seconds,” he said.
But those seven seconds made all the difference. The Sunday the piece aired, his business blew up in a good way. The customer from St. Michael made an in-store purchase. And several online customers did too.
“Because of ‘CBS Sunday Morning’,” Knutson says, “we’ve done about two months of business in one week.”