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Cogelow's 'Betty's Spies' carving wins best of show

Local folks may recognize the principal figure in "Betty's Spies," a woodcarving of a diner scene by Fred Cogelow. Don Niece of Willmar is the man on the right. The couple caught Cogelow's eye while he was in Two Harbors for a family party. (Submitted photo courtesy of Fred Cogelow)

WILLMAR -- "Betty's Spies," a woodcarving of a diner scene by Fred Cogelow, has been honored as the best of show at the recent 44th annual International Woodcarvers Congress in Maquoketa, Iowa.

And if local folks recognize the principal figure in the relief carving, that's because he's Don Niece of Willmar.

The Willmar wood carver uses his camera for "idea filing" and began gathering ideas for the carving when he met his sister at the McDonalds in Two Harbors as the family was gathering for his aunt's 90th birthday party. While Cogelow was waiting for his sister, he noticed an octogenarian couple coming to eat at the restaurant, he said.

"The lady has such life in her eyes," so he knew he had to gather their images for his idea file. Cogelow took their photos, with the woman's daughter sitting where Niece is in the carving.

Niece entered the photo, and carving, when Cogelow saw him in church at Willmar's First Presbyterian Church and realized he was the right person to put into the carving. Off they went to McMillan's Restaurant, where photos were taken fitting Niece into the scene.

Cogelow originally intended to seat the elderly couple in a bar scene, but after some difficulties switched to a restaurant scene. "Betty's Spies" came forth from Betty's Pies, the restaurant along Highway 61 near Two Harbors, and from there came the theme of small-town busy-bodies keeping track of the loyalties and disloyalties of small-town dining.

The models for the two people looking into the diner window are Fred himself and Wanda Malone of Spicer, the carver says.

The carving is 4-inch-thick basswood and measures 21 inches high by 24.5 inches wide. "Betty's Spies" is in Cogelow's collection for now, but he expects to market the piece to someone along the North Shore later this summer. That is, if he doesn't get the piece into the Minnesota State Fair fine arts exhibition.

Cogelow's other entries in the Woodcarvers Congress, the bust of a horse and a cowboy sheriff caricature, were also honored with "best of group" awards in the animal and caricature groups.

Cogelow said Friday he was pleased "Betty's Spies" won best of show, but that he thought another carving he entered in the show should have won, but received first runner-up honors. That carving, a commissioned piece in butternut wood, will be unveiled later this year.

Gretchen Schlosser

Gretchen Schlosser is the public safety reporter, and writes about agriculture occasionally, for the West Central Tribune. She's been with the Tribune since 2006 and has 17 years of experience working in news, media and communications. 

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