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Living her dream, deep in the woods

Charlene (Tudi) Paulson has opened a boutique in a hand-built log cabin set deep in the woods in a secluded spot near her home and workshop.     The cabin was built by her late brother Dennis who cut the logs on his property up north by Nisswa. “He peeled them and let them dry for a couple three years, then put the cabin together up there, but not permanently. He marked where each of the logs had been assembled, then he took it all apart again and hauled the logs down here and assembled it on the crawl space that’s underneath the foundation.”     The maple flooring in the cabin came from the gym in the old Kerkhoven High School. He put in old, used windows, which his sister spiffed up with her stained glass work. He also made the pine doors in the cabin. “My brother passed away in 2007 and the chimney stonework Dennis had dreamed about hadn’t been completed…he always wanted it faced with fieldstone.” Dean Johnson, who happens to be a stone mason and a friend of the family, finished the chimney for Dennis. He took it upon himself to finish it, Tudi said, knowing she couldn’t pay him for his work. “He said he didn’t care and I said ‘well if you do it, you can sell your stuff in the gallery as long as you want to for doing the mason work.’” Johnson also did a lot of the rock work outside of the cabin.     Jesse, Dennis’ son, refurbished the old wood stove his dad had been using to heat his workshop up north, and brought it to the cabin. “That’s what we’ll heat the building with when it gets chilly.”     Tudi said the stove was so small that Jesse didn’t want it because all he got done was “putting sticks in it.” Tudi said he put in a bigger barrel type stove in the workshop that holds big chunks of wood. “He thought this stove fit perfectly in the cabin so he brought it down here.”     Tudi said her brother ended up bartering her for the five acres of land on which he built the cabin. She needed to have a well dug but couldn’t afford it so he paid for the well in exchange for the five acres.     “I got my running water and he started building this little log cabin as a hunting shack. He loved to come down here, he loved this area.”     He was pretty much done with the cabin, but after looking at it with the maple floor and the stained glass windows, decided it was too nice for a hunting shack. “He kept working on it and then he got melanoma. It wasn’t diagnosed soon enough and it spread and he died three years ago.”     This beautiful little cabin was left empty, she said, so they decided to turn it into an art gallery for the family since they were all artists. Jesse does copper sculpting, specializing in dragons, lizards and scones to put on the exterior walls. These scones are actually tiki torches, Tudi said. Dennis’ daughter, Ginger, is also an artist and does photography and other artistic work. Her brother, Darnell and his wife, Mary do silk floral arrangements. She has two other brothers as well, Don Halvorson from Don’s Building Center in Kerkhoven, who works with wood, and Dale who lives in North Dakota and is retired. “He used to be a performing artist. He had a rock and roll band back when we were kids. He also does some wood working stuff, he makes candle boxes and does wood carving and wood burning.     Tudi has two sons, Alex who does taxidermy, and Peter, who, she said is an artist when it comes to fixing cars.     Dean Johnson has his work on display there, that work ranging from wooden lamps, framework, wood burning work and more. Tudi is displaying her jewelry and stained glass work.     All their work is displayed in the boutique, which she named ‘Made From Scratch’ and which is open the first weekend of every month June through November. She also might be open for a holiday sale towards the end of November or the first part of December. It depends on the snow. “I don’t know how easy it would be to get in and out of here if there’s a lot of snow.” She’s Come a Long Way     In looking back, Tudi admits she’s come a long way since she sold the house she lived in with her two sons, who were little at the time but are now grown.     When she sold the house, she kept 36 acres of woods and while there wasn’t any water or electricity on her land in that rural Sunburg area, they decided they wanted to live there anyway. They moved into a tiny brown cabin sitting in the midst of the woods.     “We started by cleaning out the brush and trees and kind of figuring out where the driveway was going to be and clearing that area.”      When that was finished they moved in a small, seasonal lake cabin that she had acquired from someone in Richmond, and started working on it. She tore out all the inside walls, her brother Dennis helped wire it but they lived without plumbing.     “The kids were in school and it was kind of a challenge. I carried water from the neighbors in cream cans and heated it up on a little cook stove and cooked on that stove.” Years went by, she said, and soon it became more and more livable.     She made some additions on this cabin, which she calls the scratch house. It was made from scratch, she said with a chuckle, and she did most of the work herself. “I didn’t know anything about carpentry at the time but I learned a lot. You can just sit down and think about it. I’m aware when I look at things how they’re made, and I just kind of went from there and did it.”    There’s a lot of things that aren’t perfect, she said. Tudi didn’t buy the lumber for her scratch house, she found old buildings people let her have for free and she’d tear those down and use the good quality lumber from those buildings for her scratch house.     “Inside we got the wiring done, sheet-rocked the walls and added the plumbing and it was a real nice, livable, cozy little house.” She used a wood stove for heat. There was only the one floor but it did have a basement.     “Washing clothes was a challenge. I had an old wringer washer in the backyard for a while, and we had an outhouse.”     At the same time, she was doing a lot of artistic work for herself. “I didn’t have time to pursue that but I continued to learn different art mediums and tinkered around with stuff. That’s how I learned to do the stained glass. I wasn’t selling it at that time, just learning. I learned from a book and just started doing it for my own pleasure.”     Tudi went on to say she’s always had the urge to be foolin’ around with her hands and making something out of nothing. “It runs in my family. My dad was pretty artistic, he’d do little woodworking projects, mom was a seamstress and knitter. She sewed all my clothes when I was little. And she created the most beautiful flower gardens.”     Tudi also had a little shed that started out as a garden shed where she could start seeds and do potting. But now its mostly used for storage. When she was doing ceramics she put a kiln in the shed. Today that shed is jammed with stuff Tudi can’t bring herself to get rid of and she has no other place to put it.     Today she also has a studio separate from the home she pretty much built herself from scratch. The studio doubles as her office and workshop, and really is another home for her kids to stay when they come home. In addition to the office area, it has a large room where she does all her creative work, it has a kitchenette, bathroom, and bedroom. She hired contractors to build this studio.     “It’s perfect and I can organize things, Before in the other house I’d be clearing the table after supper and trying to work on the kitchen table and it was too much. She admits she’s come a long way, all the way from building the cabin she lives in to the new studio.     The old fashioned cook stove she did her cooking on in the scratch house is now being used in her studio. She still uses it for cooking and baking. “I use that thing, I just love it, it bakes the best cookies.” The cook stove also has a reservoir for heating water. Tudi’s work     She still does some ceramic work, incorporating it into the jewelry she makes, plus little hand built creations and bird houses.     “I’d like to do more of that.” She also does paver stones with stained glass embedded in them. She’s even done grave markers for animals, plus stepping stones for the garden that have birds or flowers on them. Its very simple to do, she said. “You make a form, cut out your glass pieces in the design that you want. You turn them upside down and lay them flat down in your form, then mix a real soupy mortar, pour that in, let it set, take the form off and then turn it upside down and there it is.”     Once its out of the form she cleans up the glass, since it will have some concrete on it. She also puts a sealer on over the glass top.         “You do it once and it’s on forever,” she said, in reference to the sealer.     She makes her own patterns for the stained glasswork.     “The most fun part of the whole thing is designing the pattern for the stained glasswork. She said the patterns have to be drawn in a certain way because glass wants to break straight. “You’ve got to make sure your pattern is drawn so it’s possible to cut each piece. You can’t have real sharp curves and turns.”          She said you need two patterns, one is the layout pattern and the other pattern is what you use to actually cut out each piece. “That’s the pattern you lay out on your glass and then cut each piece according to the pieces of the pattern.” The pieces are numbered so you know where they go.     When that’s finished she uses a glass grinder, which has a diamond bit, and grinds the edges off each piece so they’re not sharp and will fit exactly into the area the piece is going. “After that’s done you clean each piece.” She uses rubbing alcohol and then wraps each piece with copper foil. The copper foil has a sticky back that sticks to the glass pieces and she wraps the edges so it folds over. “When your pieces are joined there’s that layer of copper between each one of them and that’s where you solder the pieces together.” She uses a soldering iron to solder both sides. The solder is silvery in color but she darkens it a bit because she likes a dark patina on the soldered joints. She also puts hooks on so the stained glass can be hung up.     Mostly now however, she makes jewelry, and that started because of the stained glass. “I had all these little pieces of glass and they’re so beautiful I couldn’t throw them away. Pretty soon I had buckets and buckets and buckets of all these little chunks of different colored glass.” She figured there had to be some use for that glass so she borrowed a tiny kiln from a friend and started experimenting with that glass as far as how hot the temperature had to be in order to melt the glass and fuse the pieces together. “Pretty soon I was making little pendants with fused glass pieces.”     The glass pieces have to be compatible. “That’s a lesson I learned in my experimenting. They fuse together in one piece, they don’t spread all over, they maintain the shape that you lay them in, they get rounded edges.” And they’re not sharp like a piece of glass would be. She also embedded wire in-between the pieces of glass so a chain can be attached.     She also makes ceramic pendants, buttons and beads.” To do that work she purchased a special type of torch, as well as rods of glass which she melts in the torch flame, and winds around a steel mandrill to form a handmade bead. She described the mandrill as a tiny steel rod and said it’s something to hold onto while you’re putting the melted glass on it. She explained that on each mandrill she puts what she calls a bead release. She heats that bead release on the top part of the mandrill, then heats the glass slowly at first.     “When it kind of gets a glow on it you can put it down into the hotter flame. Then soon the glass will start to run a little thicker than honey and when it does you touch that soft glass onto the bead release and it will stick and that’s when you start rolling your mandrill and you allow that glass to flow around until you get the size of bead you want. The next step is to put the bead into a kiln because it has to cool from 1000 degrees to room temperature as gradual as possible. “If it gets hot and cold immediately it will crack.”     She also uses another technique called “enamel,” which is crushed glass. “It’s as finely crushed as talcum power and in all the different colors of the rainbow.” She puts these powders in a tiny sifter, cuts a shape out of a heavy piece of copper, then cleans the copper. Once the copper is cleaned she sifts the powdered glass onto the top of the copper. Next she slides her creation into a hot kiln which melts the glass and adheres it to the copper. “I’ve done a lot of jewelry with that technique.”     Her latest venture in jewelry involves Metal Clay. “That is actual ground metal pieces that’s put into an organic substance like a ceramic type clay. The metal is incorporated into this organic material and you roll out this clay, form it however you want, imprint it with the design you’ve chosen, make holes in it, let it air dry so its totally dry.” The clay is then put it in the kiln .     “When it comes out of the kiln you let it cool down. All the organic material in the clay has burned off and you’re left with pure metal.”     Tudi said she gets very creative with that. She even takes old vintage buttons and makes molds out of them, or uses the button itself to imprint into the clay so when its baked you have a copy of that old button. She makes it all into jewelry.     Tudi also does fiber art using silks and wool. She purchases processed Marina wool which comes from a special type of sheep that has very fine wool. She makes scarves with the silk and wool.     Another form of Tudi’s creativity will become apparent when she starts making clothes. “I’ve always loved textiles and fabrics and I’ve collected quite a bunch over the years. I’d like to try put together my own designs.”     Everything Tudi has done has been a lot of work, but its been her dream.     “It’s been my dream and it has come true. Dreams do come true, you just have to persevere. Sometimes it takes a long time, which it has with me.”     She never gave up on her dream.     “The dream was always there.”

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