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A Line or Two: Northbound Smokehouse and Paul's Ball

It was just going to be lunch. Tipped off by our Managing Photographer, Bill Kelley, that the cities' newest brewery/restaurant was on the verge of opening, I called Northbound Smokehouse Brewpub and learned that their launch was set for Thursday, September 20. I decided to show up for lunch on opening day and check the place out.

As the occasion approached, I asked Bill if he'd like to come along as the official beer taster--I've been alcohol-free for years--and he agreed. I'd concentrate on the smokehouse element: the smoked fish and meat in which Northbound appeared to take as much pride as they did in their brews.

Thursday morning Bill called and asked if he could invite along his friend Paul Kamish, a sculptor with a brand-new project that might intrigue me and Line readers.

Paul, as I soon discovered, is a skilled representational sculptor. He creates trophies, framed relief sculptures of university landmarks for alumni associations, and other commemorative works. But he's been venturing out into wilder territory recently, and on Thursday morning, Bill had been helping him load a very different three-dimensional work onto the bed of a pickup: Paul's Big Red Ball, more properly known as Lunch at the Local.

This is a giant version of a bowling ball that has been halved and excavated to reveal a Minneapolis scene inside: the outdoor seating section of The Local pub on the Nicollet mall, with the city's buildings towering and leaning over it in humorous-ominous-expressionist fashion as various figures talk, eat, and orate. (See Bill's masthead photo for an image of it; if you're reading The Line on a mobile device that doesn't show the masthead, check it out in my nonprofessional photo at left.) Paul wasn't transporting the work to a site--he was creating a mobile artwork that he could display anywhere he chose.

Porter and Porketta

At noon we rendezvoused in Northbound, which turned out to be a stylish place with a simple, mature black-and-white color scheme and many, many windows—a place for grownups to eat and drink and take in the street scenery at 38th Street  and 28th Avenue. Paul brought his wife, Victoria, and the Kamishes, Bill, and I sat down to an appetizer platter of house-smoked whitefish, salmon, and trout—quite delicious.

Our charming and gregarious server, Linda Ryan, immediately made friends with the gregarious Victoria, Paul, and Bill, while I did my best not too seem too introverted. Linda brought Bill a Columbus Pale Ale and Victoria a Wild Rice Amber, while Paul tried the Northbound's own Smokehouse Porter, which he pronounced as smoky-tasting as its name would imply. For my part, I ordered the savory Smoked Porketta, an Iron Range version of the pulled-pork sandwich that reflects the up-north heritage of Northbound chef Bryce Strickler. (The other honchos are brewery boss Jamie Robinson and manager Amy Johnson.)

Paul's Big Red Ball was parked nearby, and for a laugh, Paul called Linda's attention to it through one of the big windows, without claiming ownership, or even knowledge of it. "What the hell is that?" he wondered aloud, and Linda shook her head.

Laughs and Adventures

Paul, originally a caricature artist with a caricature business that worked malls and fairs, did a lighthearted pen portrait of Linda right on her check pad. ("We ought to get you to do caricatures of the whole staff," she laughed.) Victoria and I traded segments of our life stories, and Bill Kelley was his usual buoyant self, engaging everybody with good humor and lively stories about his adventures helping friends and relatives fix, haul, and build things—the man is simply too handy and too willing too help.

I wrapped up what had turned into one of the friendliest lunches of the year with honey-wheat cheesecake (beer baked into the crust) and a profound sense of well-being. Paul spent a little time describing the inspiration for Lunch at the Local—he'd been peering at the streetscape through a camera's fish-eye lens—and we parted.

The Walker or Bust

Then, on Monday as I was writing this account, I heard from Paul again. It turns out that Lunch at the Local has become something of a mobile-art sensation as he tools it around Twin Cities neighborhoods and people notice the bowling ball with—as one passerby put it—"a whole civilization inside." He's making YouTube videos of his adventures with the Ball, and will soon be podcasting about them too. He's collecting the signatures of fans with the somewhat tongue-in-cheek goal of demanding a place for the Ball in the Walker Art Center.

As his website text reads: "The goal to find an art dealer to sell my work has changed. There now is a much bigger quest. This overwhelming public reaction is taking me on a new path of embracing social media and bringing my art to the people with a target goal in mind.

"The new premise is to ask every person I encounter one simple question. How a guy like me gets a piece like this in the Walker Art Center. I still don’t know how…..but I’m going to find out!

"Thanks for visiting. If you like what you see, please sign my 'Walker Art Request Form.'  My goal is to get 10,000 signatures from people that would like to see this sculpture in the Walker’s permanent collection."

I wish Paul well, but I think it would be a shame to end the work's journeys, to detach the Big Red Ball from its truckbed and plop it into a big white room, where a didactic (one of those plaques on a gallery wall that explains a work) would throw a wet blanket on "What the hell is that?"

Photos, top to bottom:

From left: Victoria and Paul Kamish; Bill Kelley

Northbound's porketta: pulled pork, Swiss cheese, and onions

The Big Red Ball, aka Lunch at the Local

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