In water or on walls, these handmade paddles are functional art

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DULUTH, Minn. — It might have taken eight years, but eventually Josh Rude made good on his engagement present to his wife Natalie Salminen Rude: a canoe paddle.

They had met as canoe guides working in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in the late 1990s and had, during business hours, settled for any old paddle. For the gift, they were looking for something light with a double bent shaft, something beautiful.

But nothing they found in stores was quite right, size or style-wise.

Time passed, paddle-less.

"One day turned into one week turned into one year," Rude said.

They got married, had kids, moved back to Salminen's hometown of Duluth.

Eventually Rude, who has a background in carpentry, decided to make the paddle. The first one didn't turn out. It was horrible, he said. But he made adjustments, consulted other woodworkers and YouTube, and tried again. Turned out he had a knack for it. But his wife didn't get the second paddle, either. Someone else bought it.

The third paddle, though, that was what Salminen Rude was looking for — even eight years later.

"I wanted it to be a piece of art I could use," said Salminen Rude, who is a mixed media artist. "I didn't want it to be something that was too precious to use. And he came through."

Now Rude has turned woodworking — specifically paddle-making — into his business. Glorud Design is named for the Norwegian version of his name before it was Americanized.

"I've always had a passion for this kind of work," said Rude, who is also a pastor at First Covenant Church. In college and graduate school, his uncle gave him a job with his construction company.

Rude has a shop in the Duluth Folk School and a couple local businesses carry his work.

Frost River, across the street from Rude's studio, doesn't take a lot of work on consignment and isn't a natural go-to for paddle purchases. The local shop is best known for its canvas bags. Still Rude's paddles attract attention.

His work "goes with our outdoors, canoe heritage," said store manager Dawn Moen. "His (paddles) are beautiful and people like them for their function."

At Northern Waters Restaurant, Rude's work is part of the decor paired with hand-crafted skis — and they also get an audience.

The paddle Rude built for his wife is now one of the featured designs. Innsjo, Norwegian for "lake," is named for a spot on Long Island Lake where the couple has often camped. It's an artful blend of aspen, cedar and walnut and has a fiberglass rock guard.

"I was like, this is more than an engagement paddle — you have a gift," Salminen Rude recalled telling her husband. "This is an amalgamation of all the things you love: the earth, paddling, the Boundary Waters, wood-working, me ... it's a beautiful mix."

It was the paddle that changed everything, she said, and she's mindful of that when she uses it. With that they stepped into a whole new life. Salminen Rude is self-employed as a working artist; Rude was looking for a job. And when a steady gig appeared with a regular paycheck, she said, she recommended he not take it.

"I'd rather eat beans and rice for the next however long and have you do something that brings you life and meaning," she recalled telling him.

This does. Locally sourced, handcrafted, quality items are important to him in a world where corporations are getting bigger.

"It sits with me constantly," Rude said. "Having people in our neck of the woods who make things that are artistic and beautiful and not necessarily quick. That's what speaks to who we are as people. Good music, good art, a beautiful piece of art. If I can be part of that, that would be awesome."

Rude is also working on home decor ranging from frames to tables. He and his wife are scheduled to open a showroom in early 2018. During a recent visit to his shop at the folk school, a stack of silver maple was leaned against a wall. The wood source: the trees from the reconstruction on East Fourth Street. Rude has plans: tables, benches.

"I've got a list," he said. "I'm looking forward to it."

For more information, visit Glorud Design on the web at www.gloruddesign.com.