Painter built life around a career as bricklayer

  • Updated: August 18, 2012 - 4:08 PM

From bricks to bikes and oils, a retired bricklayer sets the scene.

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Doug Carlson

For 32 years, Doug Carlson had an exacting job. He laid bricks for Local No. 1 of the Bricklayers Union. You can see his work everywhere from the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul to the Wendy's in Rosemount.

"Kind of ran the gamut," he says, over an Americano and a pancake at Trotter's Café in St. Paul. "With bricklaying, things come down to one-thirtieth of an inch."

Since he retired a couple of years ago, Carlson has split his focus on his oil painting and long-distance bicycling. His artwork -- color-splashed mountain ranges, babbling creeks and Ethiopian scenes -- are hanging this month at Trotter's on the corner of Marshall and Cleveland avenues.

"To me, both bricklaying and painting are tactile and precise," he says. "While bricklaying comes down to one-thirtieth of an inch, one-sixteenth of an inch can be the difference between getting the eyes of a portrait just right or skewed."

Born in Bridgeport, Conn., Carlson arrived in St. Paul to attend Bethel College in 1966 when the campus was situated across Snelling Avenue from the State Fairgrounds. He studied philosophy and art, and inspired by an illustrator uncle, began painting.

His construction work melded with his spiritual life and, next thing he knew, he was heading to Africa on short-time missions with his church -- Central Baptist in the heart of the Midway. Carlson has made six trips to Ethiopia since 2001, helping (you guessed it) lay bricks in a village of semi-nomadic people in the Borana District.

Most of his painting time comes in the winter. When the weather's nice, he doesn't just pedal his bike. He participates in randonneuring - a form of long-distance cycling that requires riders to complete a route in a set period of time. It's not a race or a rolling party like the RAGBRAI in Iowa.

"You have to average 10 mph, so if you want to nap for an hour, you have to compensate by riding faster," he says.

His next journey: Stillwater to Two Harbors and back next weekend.

Carlson and his wife, Marcia, have two grown kids and eight grandchildren. He's enjoying his retirement, pedaling and painting.

"Bricklaying was a great way to earn a living," he says. "You could earn $200 a day. You'd have to create a painting and sell one almost every day to make that much through art, so it's more on an avocation."

He recently finished a mammoth masterpiece of a fireplace with natural stones at a camp up north in Pine River. You can check out his two-dimensional work -- paintings of everything from the Grand Tetons to the Jordan River -- at Trotter's or Something New In the Park Gallery in St. Anthony Park or on his website: www.doug carlsongallery.com.

CURT BROWN

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