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Former Ramsey County judge creates life-sized monsters in family business

Black Heart Enterprises was founded by George Stephenson in 2009 and has grown to be one of the few Black-owned resin model kit companies in the country.

MAPLEWOOD, Minn. — George and Leigh Stephenson aren’t your typical father-daughter duo. 

The pair work alongside each other at Black Heart Enterprises, a resin model kit company that specializes in horror, science fiction, fantasy subjects and everything in between.

The shop features resin model kits and busts of all sizes. From smaller model pieces in their MicroMania collection to 1:2 scaled life-sized pieces.

"We have some dinosaurs, some historical and some modern characters like Leatherface and Jason [Voorhees]," said Stephenson. "But Star Wars and Star Trek are our most popular MicroMania pieces."

 It's a family business that all started with a childhood passion.

"My dad was into science fiction books but that translated into movies," Stephenson said.

He added some of the first movies he recalls watching was the 1962 sci-fi/horror film "King Kong vs. Godzilla" and the original "Planet of the Apes" film that debuted in 1968.

Maybe not what you'd expect from a former Ramsey County judge.

"The day I got appointed, I picked [Leigh] up from daycare and I said 'Hey Leigh, I quit my job today' and she said 'You did? Why?'  and I said, 'Because I got appointed to be a judge.' And she said 'Are you going to be a mean one like Judge Judy?'"

Stephenson spent more than 20 years on the bench ruling on criminal and civil cases in the area. However, his time as a judge meant he had to give up his other passion for quite some time. 

"They discouraged me from having a business while I was learning to be a judge," said Stephenson. "From 2003 to 2009, I had basically given up the hobby. I wasn't even painting anymore."

So, when he retired in 2022, it opened the door for more time to dedicate to his artistic craft and his daughter.

"I love being able to spend time with him being creative and painting stuff," said Leigh. "I love that we are able to spend time together."

Black Heart Enterprises is one of just a few Black-owned model kit companies in the country. But Stephenson said he sees a tide turning more recently in both pop culture and his customer base. 

"For a long time, certain audiences were ignored because the studios figured out there wasn't much money there," said George.

From movies like Marvel's "Black Panther" to HBO's award-winning series "Lovecraft Country," Stephenson said people of color are becoming more represented in the media.

However, he added that his interests as a Black man don't always correlate with his interests as a business owner.

"We are influenced by stuff we like and stuff we think will sell and sometimes those things aren't always the same," he said.

But finding the balance is something Stephenson has always done. Not only as a judge and an artist, but also as a dad.

"I told [Leigh when I first started] I wasn't going to be a mean judge. I'm just going to continue to be a mean dad," Stephenson said.

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