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Fergus man turns scraps, junk into art

He started repurposing items out of necessity

Paul Sander is the ultimate recycler. He uses wood that normally would be thrown away by a local woodshop, pieces it together with items he finds and, taa daa, he creates art. The pieces often focus on vintage cars and tractors. He also makes cabinets and lawn furniture for friends. Photo by Carol Stender

Paul Sander takes scrap wood a local shop would normally throw away, pieces it together and adds items he finds around town. A screw here and a washer there with a ring from a key ring and, taa daa, he’s built a model 1940s-era car.

The Fergus Falls man uses that same creativity reusing items to make other pieces including cabinet, storage boxes, chairs and lawn furniture.

The repurposing and recycling were borne of necessity.

“I didn’t have a lot of money, and I didn’t have a chair, so I built one,” said Sander. “Then I looked at some lawn furniture and thought, ‘I can make that.’ And I did … It feels good to repurpose things.”

His interest in reusing items started at an early age. He and his family – parents Larry and Sharon and brothers Dale and Kurt – lived in farmhouses they rented. He was drawn to the old machinery, cars and farm buildings, he said.

Sander’s father worked hard hauling concrete block for Fergus Concrete and, on weekends, would moonlight helping to lay basements.

“When they were doing that, they were cutting forms, and they always ended up with little scraps of wood,” he said. “I remember being 3 or 4 years old at the time and taking those pieces of wood home. Dad would be mad because I would have all these scraps of wood.”

When he got older, Sander began stacking them and adding things he’d found around the house. He nailed the boards together.

Sander’s cars are vintage models based on his recollections of old cars he saw at the farmsites where he grew up. Photo by Carol Stender

“I got better at it,” he said. “Whatever I tried, I could do it. I got braver at trying stuff. I don’t always succeed in everything I do, but I don’t give up on it, either. I will rehash it into something else.”

As he lived in the old farmhouses, he often saw how people had reused common items. A table and chairs at one house, he learned upon closer inspection, had been refurbished from fruit crates.

Now he gets old furniture from friends who know that Sander will repurpose it.

Sander has been inspired by the old machinery and antiques he grew up playing around, he said. He recalls being with his father at threshing shows and flea markets and how he was drawn to the old things. Although he has never used the machinery or driven the old cars or tractors, Sander recalled their details.

“I have an impression of what I think it looks like, and I go from there.” he said.

He never measures anything.

Sander’s cars are vintage models based on his recollections of old cars he saw at the farmsites where he grew up. Photo by Carol Stender

“I use my hands as I work,” he said. “The only reason I don’t use a tape measure is because I make such a mess, and I can never find anything.”

Sander keeps the proportions in check by using a stick.

“I can also see it in my mind,” he said. “I can see how it looks before I even get it done.”

When he’s finished, he sometimes checks the item’s details by viewing pictures of it.

“I am often shocked at how well it turns out,” he said.

His most recent pieces have been model tractors from the 1930s era. Instead of rubber or plastic tires, he might use wood with screws to attach. The smokestack is the end of an old TV cord.

As he paints each piece, whether furniture or car or tractor models, he chooses vintage colors with attention given to the details of the handles.

Sander got his artistic abilities from his family. While his father had a busy, hectic work schedule, when he had time, the elder Sander liked to paint.

“He never had time to do it,”he said. “He made a few oil paintings. I am still in awe of them. He was like me where it was a gift. He didn’t have to practice at it.”

His mother, a cook at the Fergus Falls State Hospital, did needlepoint, but she also loved cooking and sharing the recipes that were behind the great meals she prepared for family and friends. She taught Sander those recipes and culinary skills. He practices them today as a cook for a local Fergus Falls restaurant.

His siblings have also found skills they are equally passionate about and practice regularly. Dale enjoys the outdoors and hunting, while Kurt makes guitars.

Ironically Kurt does not play the guitar, but he loves the instrument and has a knack for building it from wood.

Sander’s latest focus is on tractors. Photo by Carol Stender

“He just loves music,” Sander said. “Guitars are like a cultural thing, and he just is drawn to it. He studied guitars and what is needed in the instruments construction. He doesn’t play and it’s just amazing the work that he does with them.”

While both brothers do work from the home they share, Sander also works in a friend’s garage. It’s where he makes the myriad of pieces he creates for family and friends.

He has had a few showings of his work, but says it’s something he would do regardless. He loves creating wood items.

“It’s something I will do anyway,” he said. “It’s a gift and I try to share it.”

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