He has a set of tools he bought from Fred Cogelow, a nationally acclaimed woodcarver from Willmar whose gnome-like images are shaped with humor, imagination and an artistry reminiscent of the greatest counterculture cartoon artists of the late 1960s. Years ago, Holst says, he inquired about taking lessons from Cogelow. He said that when Cogelow asked to see Holst’s résumé, Holst decided that maybe he wasn’t ready.
Holst has to be reminded that now he, too, has gained national acclaim of sorts.
As for his résumé?
Holst, who grew up in southeastern Minnesota and Wisconsin, is dyslexic. As a youngster, he couldn’t read and he still has problems spelling words that he hasn’t memorized. Teachers weren’t sure what to make of him. He says he never went to high school.
But he was smart enough to pass every test the military threw at him. After the service, he studied agriculture briefly at the University of Minnesota.
But life continued to throw him curveballs. He says that what VA doctors described as a “nervous disorder” forced him to retire as the owner of a bar/restaurant when he was 55.
The cruelest blow was yet to come. Twenty years ago, his wife, Mary, was killed in an auto accident.
The father of four and grandfather of five now lives with his art. Holst gives away most of his carvings. His wood busts of Santa Claus are family favorites, he says.
He’s still learning about when to use butternut wood or basswood, about the breathing and dust hazards that come from cutting hardwoods with power tools, the art of using oil to “seal” the wood, where in Iowa to find tools, and of woodcarvers’ gatherings in places like Branson, Mo.
He’s not so much interested in contests.
“That ain’t what this is about,” he said with a chuckle.
Besides, there’s too much else to do. He has several relief-art works to complete, a bust of a cowboy carrying a rope across his shoulder, a Santa, and a four-foot-high “trapper” who sits in Holst’s garage. The image is a throwback to the French voyageurs, equipped with ax, backpack and traps.
“I started that eight to 10 years ago,” Holst said. “I believe he is in butternut. It started out as a great, big log. I’d like to get it done, though I don’t know what I’ll do with it, if I ever do finish.”
He’s also working on a project that rivals his blue-ribbon-winning “Summer.”
This one is called “Winter” — a bust of a man who is dressed to encounter the elements. One look at the image and you can’t help but feel you’ve seen this guy in the North Woods or on a frozen lake with line and a pole.
“I’m not working on this with some old contest in mind,” Holst said. “Of course, it wasn’t my idea to enter the other one, either.
“It’s just something to do. Gives me an excuse to keep looking to buy more tools.”