Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Labor Day reflections: Jeff’s job isn’t just a job September 7, 2015

Jeff Lerum sands a chair in his shop, where he restores and repairs furniture.

Jeff Lerum sands a chair in his shop, where he restores and repairs furniture.

ON THIS LABOR DAY, a day to rest from our labors, consider the craftsman I met on Thursday in Pine Island, Minnesota. He is Jeff Lerum. And he loves his job. Can you say that about your life’s work?

The shop is located in downtown Pine Island, which is north of Rochester.

The shop is located in downtown Pine Island, which is north of Rochester.

For 25 years, Jeff has operated Green’s Antiques and Green’s Stripping and Refinishing. He calls his businesses a “glorified hobby.” That word choice shows passion. As I spoke with Jeff and meandered through his shop, I understood.

A beautiful handcrafted piece of which Jeff is especially fond because of the unique craftsmanship.

A beautiful handcrafted piece of furniture, unique in craftsmanship.

Some of the furniture in the showroom.

Some of the furniture in the showroom.

The side door into Jeff's workshop.

The side door into Jeff’s workshop.

Furniture, finished and unfinished, fills this place. But it’s not just furniture to Jeff. Some are customers’ family heirlooms. Others are treasures he’s rescued from auctions and elsewhere and restored. He especially likes early 1800s handmade furniture. Cupboards are his specialty. He values good solid wood; you won’t find shabby chic style furniture in his shop. Stripping finishes from wood is the main part of his business.

Everywhere there are works in progress, including these stripped chairs.

Everywhere there are works in progress, including these stripped chairs.

He’s a guy who works seven days a week. If he’s not in his shop, he’s making the evening and weekend auction rounds. “I was a picker before there were pickers,” Jeff says.

I spotted this religious icon among all the furniture.

I spotted this crucifix among all the furniture.

He once hit the jackpot with his picking. Inside a cupboard purchased at an estate auction, he found a hidden safe. And $1,700 inside. Jeff checked with the auctioneer on ownership and was told the money was his to keep. As the father of four, I imagine the unexpected windfall was welcome.

A snippet of family photos and more displayed in Jeff's workroom.

A snippet of family photos and more displayed in Jeff’s workshop.

Family photos, a child’s artwork, handmade cards and more plaster his shop door and a section of wall. That tells me a lot about Jeff and the importance of family to him. His business is a family business of 40 years.

Signage for Jeff's business spotted inside his shop.

Signage for the business inside the shop.

This Baby Boomer appears much younger than his 51 years. And I wonder if that comes from doing what he loves or being his own boss or both. Whatever the reasons, it was a joy to meet someone as genuinely enthusiastic about his labor as Jeff.

Artfully displayed furniture that Jeff has restored.

Artfully displayed furniture that Jeff has restored.

In this photo, you can see the harvest table Jeff built.

In this photo, you can see the harvest table Jeff built.

A beautiful table showcased in the showroom.

A beautiful table showcased in the showroom.

His passion shows. In the front showroom space, where furniture is displayed like artwork in a gallery. In the hefty harvest table Jeff crafted from repurposed posts and lumber. In the way Jeff wraps sandpaper around the leg of a chair and sands the wood.

Even Jeff's business cards are displayed in a way that's simple and unique--in a box on a door.

Even Jeff’s business cards are displayed in a way that’s simple and unique–in a box on a door.

His hands, his face, his personality all convey that contentment that comes from making one’s passion one’s life work.

BONUS PHOTOS:

There are other antiques and collectibles in Jeff's shop besides furniture. I absolutely adore this floral print.

There are other antiques and collectibles in the shop besides furniture. I absolutely adore this floral print.

Love this vintage light, too.

Love this vintage light, too.

This cubby unit was among many many pieces of furniture crammed into a space between the showroom and the workshop.

This cubby unit was among many many pieces of furniture crammed into a space between the showroom and the workshop.

More treasures...

More treasures…

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling