Betty’s Spies

Cogelow Carving Registry # 644
Basswood, 21” h x 24.25” w x 3.7” deep
originally finished Sept. 23, 2009, partial re-carving and re-finishing completed June 11, 2010

In April of 2008 much of my mother’s clan was gathering in Two Harbors, MN for a surprise 90th birthday celebration for her sole surviving and much cherished sister, Anne (Nelson) Kunnari. As my oldest sister was unfamiliar with the town, i suggested meeting at McDonald’s before heading out to the party. As we waited, a large SUV pulled up outside our window, from which alighted a rather slight octogenarian woman with such a magnificent light to her eyes that i immediately dashed out to inquire if i might photograph her. “Why sure, now...?,” she responded, much to my delight.

Observing the obvious, that they had come for nutrition, i suggested they go inside, order, and allow me to photograph them
while they ate. And so it was that Al and Mary, last name withheld for now as they are “kinda private sorts,” sat and ate together with their friend, Anne, seated opposite, perusing an old promotional brochure of mine, while we chatted and i took perhaps a couple dozen shots.


My initial hope had been to fit them into some sort of a pub scene, but when the task was at hand, no permutation of the background seemed compliant. Switching to the notion of a family diner
setting instead, and adding the idea of curious sorts peering in, the pre-eminent position of Betty’s Pies suggested itself as “Betty’s Spies,” and demanded inclusion of some curious sorts. My Willmar friend, Don Niece, was substituted for their friend, Anne, for the character of his handsomely weathered face.
Thus was launched this treatise on disloyalty in small-town dining, of busybodies keeping busy. The irony of course is that the only busybody involved was myself.

Friends Wanda Malone and her late husband, Patrick, posed for the folks beyond the glass. Pat unfortunately was posed straight on, and the decision to include the curtains necessitated something more sideways. Neighbor Marlin was tried, but he was a bit too stiff, so the sculptor traded places with him and became the model.


The selected wood promised some grain irregularities in the vicinity of the curtains, but what was encountered was phenomenal, —a large pocket of ingrown bark. Fortunately, all traces were removed, save for a couple of small blemishes on the right curtain. That remainder led to consultations with a renowned painter, and the decision to try an acrylic glaze followed with a tinted wash, —and disaster! The finish
did a fine job of bringing out the subtle grain of the basswood, but unfortunately totally obliterated nearly all traces of the incised wallpaper patterns and the pressure-embossed details for the plates on the plate rail. After a respite of several months, carved detail was added in place of the lost elements. While at it, much of the two main male faces was also recarved, and the car window in the background opened to reveal a seated curious onlooker.



In keeping with the Two Harbors theme, the plates reference the tugs Grandpa Woo and Edna G, and the cap bears modified reference to Lou’s Fish Shop. Those enterprises, along with Betty’s and the models, are entitled to a small royalty upon sale, or a grouped donation to the community.

Days after its completion, Betty’s Spies took Best of Show at the 44th International Woodcarvers Congress, held at the Pearson Center in Maquoketa, IA, narrowly beating another Cogelow relief carving, Deck of 51.

Updated January 14, 2012