One-of-a-kind carver, one-of-a-kind carvings.
by Spike Carlsen
AN IMPROMPTU ENCOUNTER with Fred Cogelow's "Norwegian Wheelchair" gave me a true sense of Fred as both an artist and a person. The chair itself is a thing of rare beauty, adorned with mythical Scandinavian figures, interwoven acanthus forms and intricate faces (Photo, page 23, at bottom). It incorporates a swivel mechanism, reclaimed cast iron wheels and a chunky seat that caresses you. Obviously, Fred is an imaginative artist with enormous talent.
He's also infatuated with trees and wood. The wood for the wheelchair came from an ancient butternut tree near Fred's hometown of Willmar Minnesota. He prefers not cutting down live trees for his sculptures, so he'd kept his eye on this tree for years. When it died, Fred got permission to harvest the wood. But when he went after the old tree with a chainsaw, he discovered that most of it was hollow. Not wanting to waste a beautiful
Fred's artistic endeavors were waylaid for several years while he earned a degree in political science from the University of Chicago. He resumed woodcarving while working at an adolescent treatment facility, where he was periodically assigned to night-watch shifts. "The only requirements were to make rounds every hour and stay awake the rest of the time," Fred explains. "Carving kept me awake." His first creation was a dollar bill-size carving of Albert, the Pogo comic strip character. He tried his hand at furniture restoration and construction for a while, but tired of it. Though his formal art training consisted of only 7th and 8th grade art classes, he turned to woodcarving full time at the age of 29.
Fred likes to concentrate on one sculpture at a time and completes four or five large pieces and 15 to 20 smaller pieces in a year. His sculptures generally sell for $400 to $20,000; large
When asked what he'd do for a living if he weren't a wood sculptor, Fred stares blankly. The thought hasn't occurred to him—at least not in the last 30 years. Though deemed "hopeless" by a third grade teacher that had watched him break a leg off the Ivory soap scotty dog he was carving with a butter knife, Fred persisted. He first tried carving wood when he was 17, working six hours with dull carpenters'chisels and a propane torch on a fir house-moving beam that his father (who died when Fred was six) had left behind.
resource, Fred utilized the curved hollow shell as the backrest of the chair and other parts for the chassis.
I hesitated when Fred asked if he could give me a ride in his fantastic chariot. But I realized something as I was gliding across his living room floor: Fred loves to have a good time in whatever he does.
22 AmaricanWoodworkar.com october/november 2010
A Great American Woodworker
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