Northland Visions Stays True to Original Mission, Continues To Support Local Sourcing
Ken Bellanger started Northland Native American Products from his home in 1994.
“It was started by my father who’s since passed away,” said Greg Bellanger – Ken Bellanger’s son and current owner of Northland Visions.. “He’s Native American from northern Minnesota. He started it as a gift packaging company. It was based around Native foods like wild rice, wild berry jellies, wild berry syrups, honey, native teas, things like that.”
Five years later, in December of 1999, that small home base shifted into a larger, local store overflowing with Native American art, food, clothing decorations, and, of course, gift packages. Two months later, Greg joined his father as a Northland Visions employee.
Greg said the initial goal for the company lay in serving bigger surrounding businesses with creative, alternative gift packaging, opposing the typical, commonplace boxes circulating the market in the 90s. However, like many items, gift boxes have their time and place.
“You don’t want to get focused on one thing because then you’re affected by the slump of seasonal buying,” Greg stated. “Seasonal gift boxes were really popular during the holiday season, so we had to diversify our product to maintain the store and be successful. So, we kept diversifying and adding more art, clothing, blankets, and bath products, like handmade soaps and stuffed animals for the kids,”
Greg also explained that Northland Visions “kept focused on representing the tribes of this area which are Woodland tribes of northern Minnesota [Chippewa/Ojibwe] and plains tribes of Southern Minnesota [Dakota/Sioux],”
Beads and Beadwork
According to Greg, Northland Visions became a destination for individuals looking for Native American beads since a large number of stores selling the product either closed or discontinued selling seed beads. Coincidentally, beadwork happens to be Greg’s favorite item to sell.
“The beadwork because it’s so unique,” Greg explained. “Anything from earrings to necklaces to barrettes to bags, it’s really fun to see what the artists come up with. Some of it is traditional style, some of it is their own twist on the traditional style, especially the younger beaders really go all out to make it their own.”
Locally Sourced Goods
“I buy everything outright. I don’t do consignment,” Greg continued, mentioning I certainly started off with just Minnesota [tribes], Woodlands and Plains. Then we needed to expand in order to grow the art, otherwise, you’ll end up having the same thing over and over.”
Greg sources as many materials as he can from local artists or tribes. He won’t purchase any art from non-native artists, but he might buy other items, including books, stationery, food, or clothing that matches the tone of the store. He says a typical day at the store includes researching new artists to commission, meeting with artists he’s established relationships with, and deciding which new artwork the store needs.
Other items you can find at Northland Visions include materials to make dreamcatchers, breastplates, regalia, and any items needed for traditional dancing outfits.
Some commissioned artists selling work at the store include Jennifer White, a Plains artist specializing in acrylic and canvas; Gordon Koons, a Woodlands artist specializing in printmaking and canvas; Butch Hall, a flute maker, and Josef Reiter, a silversmith.
“I think what’s made us successful is because we’ve been around for a long time,” Greg said, “and our focus has stayed true to Woodlands and Plains, native art from this region, and always trying to find new artists and new pieces of work. We try to keep a good variety from traditional to contemporary. I think that just appeals to a broader range of people, and they can come in and see new items and artwork, but also, our community is proud because there’s a store that they can come into and see artwork from their community members and from their heritage being represented in a positive way.”
To adorn your home with some of this locally sourced art or to stop by and indulge in the serene atmosphere of the shop, you can visit Northland Visions at 861 E Hennepin Ave., Minneapolis. The shop is open Tuesday-Friday from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. and on Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. For more information on Northland Visions, visit www.northlandvisions.com