Bear Fox Chalk

Johnna and Max Holmgren elevate chalkboards to an art form.

Bear Fox Chalk
Photo by Stephanie Colgan

CHALKING IT UP | “Always Minnesota Nice” is the tag phrase for Johnna and Max Holmgren’s chalk-art business, Bear Fox Chalk. It’s also a good way to describe the couple themselves, who slide into seats at Spyhouse Coffee Shop on Hennepin sharing big smiles and big ideas. “She has great vision,” says Max, winking at his wife, who is quick to return a compliment: “And he’s a great artist.”

Their company, named after the high school sweethearts’ nicknames for each other (he’s Bear, she’s Fox, natch), has been steadily getting orders ever since brides-to-be spotted the oversized chalkboards serving as backdrops for Johnna’s photography booth at the Minneapolis Wedding Fair last October. “At my booth, brides were coming up and asking if the boards came with my photography,” says Johnna, who already has a business snapping weddings and families. “I turned to Max and said, ‘We have a new business as of right now.’ ” After the fair wrapped up, the couple scrambled for two weeks to put up a website, find a name, and come up with their branding.

Fans of the well-known Brooklyn chalk artist Dana Tanamachi, who has designed and lettered for the cover of O Magazine and clients such as West Elm and Ralph Lauren, the Holmgrens are hoping to branch out from the wedding arena to capture concert venues, retailers, and home decor clients as well.

0912-board_400.jpgACROSS THE BOARD | Max realized his passion for chalk when Stillwater stationery store Mara-Mi commissioned him to design a menu board last summer. He instantly loved it as a medium—its ephemeral quality coupled with that old-timey yet very on-trend appearance. It also seems the perfect fit for the hip and wholesome Holmgrens (he sports an arm tattoo; she wears a feather in her hair)—who were born and raised in Minnesota and recently moved from Stillwater to St. Anthony to be closer to the urban action.

While Max sharpens his chalk with a blade cutter to prepare to sketch his designs, Johnna works on the vision and the client relationship. Max builds their Restoration Hardware–inspired boards from galvanized metal frames stamped around sheets of wood. The boards can be purchased along with the designs, or rented for an event. Prices start at $300 to lease a two-by-two-foot board and $400 to buy.

SLATED FOR THE FUTURE | “Working with chalk is probably a little like building a wedding cake. It’s a work of art, but it can easily be smooshed. That’s part of the beauty,” says Max, who is still trying to find the best way to transport the boards to protect them on their way to a client. For couples or businesses that want to display theirs indefinitely as a “work of art,” he sprays them with a sealant.

On average, a board will take at least two days to complete. The time-lapse video on their site, which shows Max illustrating the Bear Fox Chalk logo over a path through the woods, took a whopping 50 hours to produce. And there will be more where that came from. “I’m interested in epic chalkboards,” says Max. “Big backdrops to concerts, a chalk mural on the side of a building.” Or their most recent: a wall mural of a starry sky in the forest for their 3-month-old daughter Luella’s nursery.