ELY — The last jigsaw puzzle I completed had probably 300 pieces and featured Toy Story characters, and I was helping a sevenyear old. I had forgotten how fun (and frustrating) puzzles are, and this puzzling story inspired me to try one without cowboys and talking dinosaurs.
As the coronavirus continues to radically alter our lives, an Ely photographer has found a unique way to keep his business afloat while providing old-fashioned fun in the form of beautiful jigsaw puzzles. When I spoke with him over the phone, he had just finished packing another shipment of puzzles. Orders keep coming in, and they’re getting rave reviews.
Eric Sherman grew up in Babbitt and moved around a bit before ending up in Ely. He is a foreman at a machine shop in Ely, but he said he actually puts in more hours per week with his photography business.
Eric started taking photos in 2011 and has been published in local, state, and national publications. He is a photographer for the Ely Echo and the Babbitt Weekly News and is the official photographer for the Ely and Northeast Range schools.
He is also the official photographer for the rock band Hairball, and his photos have been used in the band’s posters, social media accounts, and articles in the Chicago Tribune. Last year, Eric took photos of an unfortunate bear (nicknamed Ringo by Ely residents) with a trash can lid around its neck. One photo in particular went viral around the world. The London Times and Fox News ran the photos, and a Wall Street Journal reporter from the newspaper’s Chicago office even traveled to Ely to look for the bear with Eric.
“I’ve been fortunate enough in this short career of only nine years to be published all over the country,” Eric said. To read more about Eric and his photography business, see our Focus on Photographers feature from Nov. 2, 2018 (www.hometownfocus.us/articles/focuson photographers-12/).
When the COVID-19 pandemic grew, people started canceling photo sessions and “things instantly dried up.” Eric found himself with a lot more free time than usual, and jigsaw puzzles seemed like a good way to help others spend their time, and it was a new way to market his photos.
“I’ve always been thinking of different ways to add to my photo line,” he said, “and I’m not afraid to get into new adventures.”
At the end of March, Eric put out feelers on Facebook to see if people would be interested. The sample he used was a version of the fox photo that was HTF’s cover photo for our May 1 edition. Eric immediately received comments supporting his idea, and he quickly ordered 500-piece puzzles made from five photos. He said the fox photo is his favorite of the puzzle images so far.
“It was unbelievable how fast they sold,” he said. Eric orders the puzzles through the Ely Echo to support a local business. He has sold nearly 400 puzzles and has shipped to 18 states as of early May. Twelve designs are currently available.
When deciding which photos to turn into puzzles, Eric mostly selected photos that had the most response on Facebook. “I wanted to do things I thought would sell well and would relate to people,” he said.
One popular puzzle has featured Little Ely: a 3D-printed replica of the Ely water tower. The tiny tower was made by Dave Schmidt of Wolfland Computers and Hobby in Ely. Schmidt printed the figurines in summer 2019 and has shipped them around the world. Eric had the idea to take photos of Little Ely with different landscapes, and the first of those photos, taken with the Pioneer Mine in the background, became a puzzle. Eric says Little Ely resonates with current and former residents because it’s one of the first things people see when driving into town.
On Easter, Eric shot a timber wolf (with his camera, of course). People loved the photo and it, too, is now a puzzle. Other designs show the northern lights, an owl, a waterfall, and the Peter Mitchell Days fireworks. The fireworks photo is special because Eric has fond memories of the festival in his hometown.
“Some of these are really hard to keep in stock because they’re so popular. It’s kind of surreal still. Six weeks ago, I never imagined I’d be taking all these puzzle orders”
Customers have given his puzzles ample kudos. Eric said one woman who ordered the wolf puzzle was working on it until 2:30 a.m. He said the puzzles can be difficult because of the sky and foliage. Another woman on Facebook commented, “The trees are definitely the hardest part of this puzzle! We had so much fun doing this.” Another said, “Thanks Eric Sherman for the awesome puzzle! Seriously addicting and challenging! I am making progress, totally distracted me today from doing anything else productive.”
Eric has also received high praise from mother, a puzzle aficionado and not one to shy away from challenging designs of a thousand pieces or more. Eric said, “When my puzzles came out, she gently harassed me about them being only 500 pieces, because she really enjoys puzzles and likes them being difficult. She has the fox puzzle, and she posted her progress [on Facebook,] and she had over four hours into the frame and just a little portion with the logo for my photography business.”
To purchase one of Eric’s puzzles, visit www.Ericshermanimages.com. They cost $39.99 and ship within one business day when in stock. Now that retail businesses have started to reopen, the puzzles will be available at about 10 Ely businesses. They are currently for sale at Ely Northland Market, Merhar’s Ace Hardware, Northern Expressions, and the Ely Echo. Follow Eric Sherman Images on Facebook for more updates.
If you’re looking for something to do while supporting a local business owner, consider buying one of Eric Sherman’s puzzles. “People are having so much fun with it,” Eric said. “It’s really neat.”