African roads lead to Milbank (through Oregon)

Craig and Sarah Weinberg: African roads lead to Milbank (through Oregon)

By Amy Thue


City girl. Small town boy.

Suburban St. Paul. Oregon logging country.

High School class of over 400. Private school class of 4.

Eleven years ago, over 8,000 miles away, a bond began to form in Uganda, Africa between two souls with one very common similarity, creativity. On paper it seems that these two would have nothing in common, but when you sit down and listen to their story, you realize, they are the perfect match.

The road from Africa led them through Oregon to their current destination of Milbank. Two home-taught, self-taught creatives that are still discovering new gifts through their work at VPD Studio on Main Street.

Craig and Sarah did not grow up in Milbank

Sarah recalls, “I did drive through here years before and said, ‘I’m glad I will never live in Milbank.’ Because I thought it was ugly and I shouldn’t probably say this but it’s true. I thought it was ugly and I wanted to live in a Northfield kind of town because it’s cute and it’s fun. And I feel like I heard God laughing when I said that. And I thought, Oh no! I just signed myself up for Milbank.”

Common bond of Creativity

The Weinberg’s grew up in households across the country from each other. Sarah in Eagan, MN and Craig in Tenmile, OR. They were raised in very different households, but they had one very important thing in common that makes them both who they are today. Craig and Sarah were both encouraged to explore creativity from a very young age.

Sarah’s mom nurtured her creativity.

“She would sit around the kitchen table with us at night and we would learn how to draw perspective and cubes and shading and lettering and those kinds of things,” she said.

Craig says he doesn’t remember his mom ever not making things and his dad was creative, too.

“My mom is a phenomenal artist and she doodles all the time and paints like crazy. And dad, I grew up with him taking pictures as a hobby, kind of a secondary thing that he did,” said Craig.

Leap of Faith

After a second mission trip to Africa as friends, Sarah made a leap of faith and moved to Seattle to be closer to Craig.

“I wasn’t about to move to a small town for a boy because I didn’t have a ring. So I moved to Seattle, that was six hours away and if it doesn’t work out I would never run into him. At this point I am thinking probably he is it, but I need to meet his family because maybe he’s a crazy person and you know he’s really cool in Africa but he’s not cool back around his friends. You never know, people can be whoever they want overseas,” Sarah said.

Craig and his family did not turn out to be crazy and not long after, Craig and Sarah were married. Craig decided quickly after they were married to quit his job and do photography full-time.

He said he knew that photography was going to be more than a hobby in Africa.

“My second trip there I shot a ton of pictures. I have thousands of pictures that I shot there. That really was kind of the love of the picture taking piece of it for me.  To get in close and see the emotion in people’s eyes and capture that. It was fun,” Craig said.

“Coming back I knew I could do this because I think I had the eye and I had the technical aptitude to figure it out.”

The beginning of his career was hard for the young couple.

Sarah admits, “Oh we were so poor. I don’t know how we lived. We would pray for food some times and it would show up.”

Entrepreneurs at Heart

They discovered another similarity between the two of them as they started a business from scratch.

“We both have entrepreneurial sides,” said Sarah.

“I grew up learning how to run a business from my dad and take risks and be okay with that. I think both of our parents did a great job of equipping us with not necessarily a specific kind of career but with the ability to make it in the world.”

Craig added, “They provided the tools to create an environment to succeed. They didn’t put us in a box.”

The Weinberg’s path shifted when they decided to move to Milbank to help Sarah’s grandfather. They decided to set up the studio on Main Street and build their business.

Their business has grown from photography to video and now the addition of an art studio.

Craig’s most recent project is called Why Milbank. Through an independent art project Craig has been working with senior Tanner Hackwith on this newest endeavor.

Craig and Tanner have been seen throughout the area with cameras in hand asking the question of many current and former residents, Why Milbank?

Why Milbank?

“Why Milbank?” Craig laughs, “Well it’s obviously not my family because they are not here. It’s a strange thing. About a month ago my dad had open heart surgery so I had to fly back to Oregon. During my stay I went down to where I grew up and stayed at my parent’s house. The more I was there, the less I wanted to be. That was interesting because then coming back ‘home’, to Milbank, here it really felt like this is it. This is the place I am supposed to be. This is home”

“Part of it is the people we have gotten to know. They have been great. The community is good. The terrain is crap. It is flat, no curvy roads, no mountains, so that part is a bummer. But I think what keeps me here, part of it to be really honest is our business centers around a client base that you can’t just go get. It is relational type of client base. That being said, that isn’t the only reason, but the reality is that if we couldn’t survive financially here, we couldn’t be here.”

Sarah added, “We also feel that God has called us here and then has blessed us while we have been here. We feel like He has blessed us and we have His favor in our lives here, because he wants us here.”

“All the doors just led us right to here,” Craig said. “Everything really just pointed us to here. I believe that we are here on purpose. I do.”

“I love raising our kids here,” Sarah stated. “I love that they can walk to the studio. I love that our house is a 5 minute walk from our business. I love that when I go to the grocery store I know most of the people in there. I am an extrovert relational type person, I like knowing my neighbors.”

Sarah and Craig Weinberg are the owners of VPD Studio. Sarah most recently created VPD Art Studio to share her love and gift of art with the community. She has now expanded the Studio to include retail art supplies. Craig can still be found behind his camera capturing life, but his lens is now capturing video along with his photography.