Artist: Michael Thomsen
Minneapolis-based “assemblage sculptor” who scavenges garage sales and thrift stores for furnishings and ephemera to incorporate into his art.
Thomsen’s artist statement reads like a Tim Burton movie. Members of his family, which hailed from the Danish Royal Circus, ran a carnival that traveled the California coast. At 7, he began working for his auctioneer grandfather, sorting old-timey trinkets and miscellanea. Eventually he amassed his own collection of treasures, which later served as the jumping-off point for his art — a carnivalesque mix of carved table legs, clocks, sconces, radio cabinets, carousel horses, animal skulls and religious paraphernalia Frankensteined into new sculptural works. The 47-year-old artist discussed his methodology for collecting as his latest piece, an 8-foot amalgam of Queen Anne-style bed legs, a radio cabinet and ’70s-era Spanish revival end tables, overlooked us forebodingly.
Hit the neighborhood sales: “Then you can just park your car, walk around and haul your finds back.”
Go off the beaten path: “I usually cut through neighborhoods,” he says. “I’ve gone down dead-end alleys in the weirdest neighborhoods and found the craziest little sale with no signage. It might be all kids’ clothing and old cassettes but you might find a really cool pair of salt and pepper shakers. It’s worth the adventure just to find one cool thing.”
Be a scavenger: “You’ve got to put yourself in the place of a raccoon looking for a scrap of bread in a trash can.”
During the offseason: “Estate sales happen year-round, because” — he adds helpfully — “people die year-round.”
Dealers: Peter Dyste & Caitlin Karolczak
The owners of home-furnishing studio Spinario Design cut their teeth scouring garage and estate sales for rare, one-of-a-kind pieces.
Dyste and Karolczak both began collecting and dealing vintage goods at the ripe age of 16. For Karolczak, 29, a figurative painter, it started as more of an outside interest that informed her art — much of her work is based on vintage photographs and medical texts. Dyste, 52, got his start cataloging the contents of an 1860s Gothic Revival mansion in Hastings. The pair came together seven years ago as studio mates. She began helping him sell his finds on Craigslist, and romance — and Spinario Design — was born. While it’s unlikely you’ll run into the sort of designer vintage stock sold at Spinario (3338 University Av. SE., Mpls., 612-396-1860) at your run-of-the-mill garage sale, the pair have been in the game long enough to know the score.
Go to church: Hit the church, temple and school sales in affluent neighborhoods, they say. “You can go to one church sale or 100 garage sales,” Dyste says.
No newlyweds: Avoid neighborhoods with young couples, they say. “You’ll end up with baby clothes,” he says.
Be an early bird: Shopping early is key, particularly at church and estate sales. “The minute the ad hits the paper, people are calling for a preview,” Dyste says. “If it starts at 9, show up at 7. If you want to get the good stuff, that’s what you have to do.” Karolczak adds, “There is competition with dealers — they often wait in line for hours waiting to get in. But they are so picky that there is always something there for the average person.”
Play the waiting game: But, Karolczak says, remember the golden rule of the thrifty shopper: “The price goes down the longer the sale lasts.”
Creative director: Kara Kurth
A young mom and creative director for whom garage saling is a weekend outing — and a cheap way to furnish her home.
Many of us remember being dragged to garage sales as a children. For Kara Kurth of Robbinsdale — a trained photographer currently working as a creative director for RedStamp.com — that experience was the inception of a lifelong love of garage saling. “My mom took us garage saling all the time when we were kids,” Kurth, 29, says. “I remember following signs for miles — ‘I have a feeling this is going to be a good one,’ ” she recalls her mother saying. “My parents definitely instilled that used is just as good as new, and when you pay full price for something, it’s usually a ripoff.” Today, Kurth goes garage sale hopping at least once a week with her husband, Bill, and her two young children. “I should get one of those bumper stickers, ‘I brake for garage sales!’” she cracks.
Check Craigslist listings: “[My mom] will send me Craigslist ads for good-looking ones,” Kurth says. Read ads carefully if you’re looking for specific items. Kurth typically looks for things like vintage brass, original art, designer clothing and shoes, midcentury furniture and kitchenware, wooden toys and kids’ clothes.
Go for the package deal: “If you’re buying a bunch of items, don’t be afraid to throw a bundled price [offer] their way. Most likely you’ll get a ‘Sure, why not?’ ”
Good deals are priceless: “Be proud of the deals you get! I’m sure my friends get sick of me saying, ‘I found this for …,’ but I love talking about a good deal.”