Steve and Todd at Artifacts

Todd Thelen, owner of Artifacts in Iowa City, grew up in a small town in South Dakota.  He had an early interest in drawing that was fostered by his mother who shared his passion for the arts.  Opportunities to learn and explore art were limited in the small farming community and Todd became the guy to see if you needed something drawn. It was clear to Todd that in order to accomplish his creative pursuits, he would need to leave his home town. He studied English, German and art at Augustana College in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.  He was then accepted to the printmaking program at the University of Iowa for his MFA.

Like most graduate students, funds were limited, so Todd furnished his apartment with second hand finds from local thrift shops, auctions, and alleyways.  He soon found that he had a knack for discovering out of the ordinary objects that he could resell at a profit.  This hobby grew into a side business with his finds on sale at a local antique store.  As he completed his MFA, he realized that printmaking was not his life’s passion.  He explored other artistic genres but it became clear that art making would not be his livelihood.  On the other hand, his side business had continued to grow, ultimately partnering with the antique dealer who had displayed his items previously.  In 2003, the opportunity to purchase the consignment shop, Artifacts, presented itself and the rest is history.

Todd has no regrets from making that decision.  He has watched his business grow over the last 14 years with an ever changing, eclectic mix of items from his over 2000 consigners.  The secret to his success is Todd’s connection with his patrons.  This personal interaction is what gets him out of bed every morning. He revels in the discovery of the far-out, peculiar, and uncommon treasures and people that walk through his door and the ability to connect these items with those who appreciate them most. Items are priced to move and if you are a frequent visitor to the store (as you should be), you know that every day brings a new set of treasures.

“You have to actually physically come into our store.  We don’t do anything online.  We refuse to do that. We don’t ship anything.  Nope, you walk in and you buy it and that’s it.”

Keeping up with this rapid  turnover is more than a one person job and Todd is fortunate to have an extremely knowledgable, dedicated group of co-workers including Margaret, Steve and Ryan to help out.

The other thing you will find when you enter Artifacts, is that it is unlike any other consignment store you have ever been to.  There are original works of art by well known artists hanging on the wall.  In the corner, is a collection of unique hand thrown pottery.  There are pieces of furniture curated by the staff to jive with most modern decors. Finally, there are the odd, ornate, rare, curious items of memorabilia to suit all needs including jewelry, salt and pepper shakers, sock monkeys, masks, tools, cameras, knickknacks, books, photos, games, and the list goes on and on.  It is no accident that all of these incredible items ended up together in one place.  Todd and crew, as curators of culture, have used their artistic acumen to distill the clutter and maximize your second hand shopping experience. While not directly supporting himself by making art, there is a definite art to what Todd does.

Outside of his business, Todd and his husband, Eric, are avid pottery collectors, art enthusiasts, and supporters of the arts in Iowa City and the corridor.  Their pottery collection contains over 2400 pieces from all over the world and was featured at the Cedar Rapids Museum of Art in 2016. Throughout the course of amassing this extensive collection, they have have traveled the country and have met many interesting artists.  They are committed to supporting local and regional artists and are working with Little Village to showcase artists through short video vignettes.  You can see these videos at http://littlevillagemag.com/?s=artifacts+videos.

Cory Christiansen
Cory is the founder of the Artists Action Network. He has an insatiable appetite for all things creative and is always on the lookout for talented people doing inspiring things.

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