Ian Grant, originally from Minnesota, discovers Puerto Rico, Australia and Mongolia for a new TV series
DULUTH —In the period between the quiet beginning and end of the documentary-style series “Relic Hunters” and the start of his new project, Ian Grant received pitches for other TV shows that similarly combined l history and travel.
One was inspired by the Mutter Museum in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where a visitor can find the oddities magnified in jars filled with liquid: the intestines of cholera patients, the hands of a person who had the gout or dried foot skin of a 23-year-old with a skin-picking compulsion.
“I would travel around the world looking for the different body parts of famous people,” Grant said in a recent phone interview, “like Joan of Arc’s shin bone.”
Although this did not materialize – “I don’t know if it’s a disappointment”, he said – Grant’s new program “Culture Quest” has him traveling the world again, but to meet living and breathing artists. Episodes are expected to begin airing this month on public television. There are six episodes in the first season, with trips to East Timor, Northern Australia, Western Mongolia, Kyoto, and Puerto Rico.
It’s a return to the role of curious, art-loving traveler for Grant, whose 2009 show “The Relic Hunter” aired on the Travel Channel. It was a short-lived run during an unpopular time slot – but it won an Emmy Award.
“I’ve always liked the general concept of looking at life through objects, arts and crafts and was trying to find a way to do that that was a bit more in-depth than what Travel Channel wants on their airwaves,” Grant said.
Grant, a 1987 graduate of Duluth Cathedral High School, owns Bjorling & Grant, a Minneapolis boutique specializing in custom furniture created from reclaimed wood.
The lifelong traveler landed on the Travel Channel a decade ago after auditioning for an HGTV show and was recognized by famed style consultant John Kitchener, who knew Bjorling & Grant well.
Kitchener, according to a 2009 article in the News Tribune, arranged for a film crew to follow Grant on an overseas shopping trip and the short-lived series “The Relic Hunter” was born. But each episode only aired once, at 11 p.m. on Saturday nights.
“If it wasn’t my show, it would be comical,” Grant said. “The weird and good thing for me — even though they trashed it — they submitted it for an Emmy.”
It won the Daytime Emmy Award for Outstanding Achievement in the Special Class series in 2010. It’s the kind of boost that led to other lands, like a mythical version of “The Relic Hunter” and the spectacle of the oddities.
Grant started talking to public television executives about “Culture Quest” in 2016. He likes the freedom offered in this space where there’s no push to hire a sidekick for the sake of plot conflict and controversy.
In terms of style, he admires the work of the late Anthony Bourdain.
“He just has to get out there and let the show and the filming go where they went organically,” Grant said. “I really liked that kind of honesty instead of set pieces.”
In the “Culture Quest” clips, filmed by Ian Levasseur, Grant is seen visiting the Yolngu, an Aboriginal group in northern Australia, and discovering artists who use “modern techniques to underpin ancient ones”, such as he says so. (Ultimately, this is where he meets the man who will eventually create the show’s theme song.)
Javi Cintron, a mural artist from Puerto Rico, takes Grant on a large-scale public art tour in Santurce, Puerto Rico.
This is preferable to gallery-style viewings, where people feel compelled to keep moving, according to the artist.
“People come down to see it more like – I can go out and have a coffee or have a beer, but I can see art,” Cintron says, in this casual art conversation that includes two dogs walking . “Because you’re hanging out, you can actually watch it.”
In Western Mongolia, Grant strips down to bikini shorts and cowboy boots to take on a nationally ranked wrestler. Grant expressed concern about the size of his shorts. Well Named.
“My butt ended up looking like a ripe tomato with my rubber band wrapped around it,” he says in the episode.
Gustavus Adolphus College, St. Peter’s School, Minnesota, where Grant earned an art history degree in 1991, is the show’s first sponsor — and with that came a tie-in course. Students in three different art and politically themed classes connected with Grant in 2019-20 as he traveled, and were able to read messages and watch videos about his travels in addition to asking questions and commenting. take part in a Zoom interview with, say, nomadic children in Mongolia, a rebel fighter in East Timor, or a young artist in Kyoto.
Grant said travel is part of his DNA. As a child, his family spent time in Duluth and abroad. Returning to Minnesota in the 1970s and 1980s, he said he would see the similarities between Americans and someone in Germany, Switzerland or Cypress.
“People are similar in many ways,” he said. “I like this idea of going places and finding people who are doing fascinating things – and some people will think weird and unusual things. Basically, it’s Kumbaya-ish, it’s a shared humanity.
“Basic hopes, basic needs, basic aspirations. I like to share this, show the unusual, the things that are foreign to them while explaining why they do it – because they need to make money or they want to be successful – for very familiar human needs .