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Bill Wrage is a master carver

Anna Aughenbaugh
Fort Collins, Colo.
Gene and Bill Wrage stand beside the large totem pole in their front yard. He carved this totem pole as Indians did to represent their family tree.

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Having seen and admired Bill Wrage’s carvings in several churches in Fort Collins, I called to ask if he would talk with my husband, Allen, and me about his work. We set a time and were told, “Look for the totem poles in front of our house.”

We were greeted by Bill, who is the image of a cowboy with a New York accent, and his wife of 65 years, Gene. While still at the door, in sight of the totem poles, I asked him to tell us about them.

Bill explained that only shore Indians made totem poles to represent their family trees. His are made of pine and are 8 feet tall. The Thunderbird on top is the chief, the Raven, his wife is next, the rest of the family is shown as other animals. “I treat the wood with quite a few coats of a mixture of one quart boiled linseed oil and ¼ quart turpentine, then cover it with Man O’ War Spar varnish, sanding between coats. After it is properly preserved, he finishes it by painting it with bright colors.

Gene ushered us into their living room where she pointed out furniture that Bill had built and the detailed carvings of men who opened the west stand like sentries on top of the bookcases. “A man once accused Bill of having a real stuffed Bald Eagle hanging on the wall. He had to touch the carving to believe it is made of wood,” said Gene. “My favorite is ‘Tundra,’ a white Mountain Goat, it’s not for sale.”

Bill settled into his easy chair to answer my questions. He was born and raised in Brooklyn, N.Y., over 87 years ago. His keen memory and way of telling his life story makes it come to life as though watching a video.

I soon learned that this humble man would rather talk about how the Lord has lead and blessed his life ever since he accepted Him as his Savior.

His wife and others had prayed for his salvation, but until one day when he turned on the television to watch a cowboy show and heard Billy Graham preaching on art, Bill wanted no part of becoming a Christian. It is strange how God works. He reaches people through things they love.

Life didn’t get easy for the Wrage’s, but from then on, he and Gene prayed about everything.

They’ve seen God work when they had no food in the house; as they joined hands around the table to pray, the phone rang. It was a man needing a sign painted immediately. Bill made the sign and was paid $5.00. They pulled their wagon a mile and a half to the store where they picked out the food they needed, for exactly $5.00. “The Lord wants to be involved in our lives and for us to ask for our needs to be met,” said Bill.

In 1966 Bill created a float that was sponsored by the Pioneer Girls and Boys brigade organizations of the Faith Ev. Free Church of Deer Park, Long Island, N.Y. Chet Huntley presented him with first prize; the local paper gave it a front page display of photos so that all could see and read God’s Word.

For 20 years Bill maintained his sign business in New York before he took a bus to Fort Collins, Colo., to seek a job in 1967. He got a job, and realized his arthritic knees were better in the drier climate.

Back in New York, God showed him that his decision to move was good. Their house sold in one week, and his knees were painfully swollen again.

Before beginning to carve, and all through the project, he asks God for guidance. “He works through my art, gives me ideas and ability. God receives the glory for everything, everything I have belongs to Him.”

Bill is a realist who wants to capture in wood what God has created, things that need no explanation. When he first began carving, he made his own chisels out of old files. “Roses are the hardest things to carve. I’ve made plaques with roses and scripture, also crosses and communion tables for several churches. An eight foot long oval plaque with Matt. 11:28, ‘Come unto Me all ye that labour and are heavy laden and I will give you rest’ has a gold leaf border symbolizing that there is no beginning or ending of God.” To show his appreciation of Dr. Billy Graham, Bill presented him with a 36 by 18 by 2 inch carving of Daniel in the Lion’s Den. It now hangs in Dr. Graham’s office.

Bill’s shop sits behind the house, workbenches are covered with drawings, tools line the walls, while sawdust gives credence to the work that has been done here. When Bill was nine years old he started carving a bar of Ivory soap. This versatile carver graduated to using pine, redwood, butternut, oak, and basswood. His talent isn’t limited to carving, he also does oil painting.

‘Chip Chats,’ the magazine of the National Wood Carvers Association has featured two pages of photos of Bill’s carvings. Bill has a letter from The magazine’s editor, Edward F. Gallenstein, declaring him a Master Carver.

Bill praises the Lord for his wonderful wife. “Gene’s always been faithful and took care of me,” he said. Bill prays that his failing eyes will let him continue to see details. He has many projects that he wants to finish.

Having seen and admired Bill Wrage’s carvings in several churches in Fort Collins, I called to ask if he would talk with my husband, Allen, and me about his work. We set a time and were told, “Look for the totem poles in front of our house.”

We were greeted by Bill, who is the image of a cowboy with a New York accent, and his wife of 65 years, Gene. While still at the door, in sight of the totem poles, I asked him to tell us about them.

Bill explained that only shore Indians made totem poles to represent their family trees. His are made of pine and are 8 feet tall. The Thunderbird on top is the chief, the Raven, his wife is next, the rest of the family is shown as other animals. “I treat the wood with quite a few coats of a mixture of one quart boiled linseed oil and ¼ quart turpentine, then cover it with Man O’ War Spar varnish, sanding between coats. After it is properly preserved, he finishes it by painting it with bright colors.

Gene ushered us into their living room where she pointed out furniture that Bill had built and the detailed carvings of men who opened the west stand like sentries on top of the bookcases. “A man once accused Bill of having a real stuffed Bald Eagle hanging on the wall. He had to touch the carving to believe it is made of wood,” said Gene. “My favorite is ‘Tundra,’ a white Mountain Goat, it’s not for sale.”

Bill settled into his easy chair to answer my questions. He was born and raised in Brooklyn, N.Y., over 87 years ago. His keen memory and way of telling his life story makes it come to life as though watching a video.

I soon learned that this humble man would rather talk about how the Lord has lead and blessed his life ever since he accepted Him as his Savior.

His wife and others had prayed for his salvation, but until one day when he turned on the television to watch a cowboy show and heard Billy Graham preaching on art, Bill wanted no part of becoming a Christian. It is strange how God works. He reaches people through things they love.

Life didn’t get easy for the Wrage’s, but from then on, he and Gene prayed about everything.

They’ve seen God work when they had no food in the house; as they joined hands around the table to pray, the phone rang. It was a man needing a sign painted immediately. Bill made the sign and was paid $5.00. They pulled their wagon a mile and a half to the store where they picked out the food they needed, for exactly $5.00. “The Lord wants to be involved in our lives and for us to ask for our needs to be met,” said Bill.

In 1966 Bill created a float that was sponsored by the Pioneer Girls and Boys brigade organizations of the Faith Ev. Free Church of Deer Park, Long Island, N.Y. Chet Huntley presented him with first prize; the local paper gave it a front page display of photos so that all could see and read God’s Word.

For 20 years Bill maintained his sign business in New York before he took a bus to Fort Collins, Colo., to seek a job in 1967. He got a job, and realized his arthritic knees were better in the drier climate.

Back in New York, God showed him that his decision to move was good. Their house sold in one week, and his knees were painfully swollen again.

Before beginning to carve, and all through the project, he asks God for guidance. “He works through my art, gives me ideas and ability. God receives the glory for everything, everything I have belongs to Him.”

Bill is a realist who wants to capture in wood what God has created, things that need no explanation. When he first began carving, he made his own chisels out of old files. “Roses are the hardest things to carve. I’ve made plaques with roses and scripture, also crosses and communion tables for several churches. An eight foot long oval plaque with Matt. 11:28, ‘Come unto Me all ye that labour and are heavy laden and I will give you rest’ has a gold leaf border symbolizing that there is no beginning or ending of God.” To show his appreciation of Dr. Billy Graham, Bill presented him with a 36 by 18 by 2 inch carving of Daniel in the Lion’s Den. It now hangs in Dr. Graham’s office.

Bill’s shop sits behind the house, workbenches are covered with drawings, tools line the walls, while sawdust gives credence to the work that has been done here. When Bill was nine years old he started carving a bar of Ivory soap. This versatile carver graduated to using pine, redwood, butternut, oak, and basswood. His talent isn’t limited to carving, he also does oil painting.

‘Chip Chats,’ the magazine of the National Wood Carvers Association has featured two pages of photos of Bill’s carvings. Bill has a letter from The magazine’s editor, Edward F. Gallenstein, declaring him a Master Carver.

Bill praises the Lord for his wonderful wife. “Gene’s always been faithful and took care of me,” he said. Bill prays that his failing eyes will let him continue to see details. He has many projects that he wants to finish.

Having seen and admired Bill Wrage’s carvings in several churches in Fort Collins, I called to ask if he would talk with my husband, Allen, and me about his work. We set a time and were told, “Look for the totem poles in front of our house.”

We were greeted by Bill, who is the image of a cowboy with a New York accent, and his wife of 65 years, Gene. While still at the door, in sight of the totem poles, I asked him to tell us about them.

Bill explained that only shore Indians made totem poles to represent their family trees. His are made of pine and are 8 feet tall. The Thunderbird on top is the chief, the Raven, his wife is next, the rest of the family is shown as other animals. “I treat the wood with quite a few coats of a mixture of one quart boiled linseed oil and ¼ quart turpentine, then cover it with Man O’ War Spar varnish, sanding between coats. After it is properly preserved, he finishes it by painting it with bright colors.

Gene ushered us into their living room where she pointed out furniture that Bill had built and the detailed carvings of men who opened the west stand like sentries on top of the bookcases. “A man once accused Bill of having a real stuffed Bald Eagle hanging on the wall. He had to touch the carving to believe it is made of wood,” said Gene. “My favorite is ‘Tundra,’ a white Mountain Goat, it’s not for sale.”

Bill settled into his easy chair to answer my questions. He was born and raised in Brooklyn, N.Y., over 87 years ago. His keen memory and way of telling his life story makes it come to life as though watching a video.

I soon learned that this humble man would rather talk about how the Lord has lead and blessed his life ever since he accepted Him as his Savior.

His wife and others had prayed for his salvation, but until one day when he turned on the television to watch a cowboy show and heard Billy Graham preaching on art, Bill wanted no part of becoming a Christian. It is strange how God works. He reaches people through things they love.

Life didn’t get easy for the Wrage’s, but from then on, he and Gene prayed about everything.

They’ve seen God work when they had no food in the house; as they joined hands around the table to pray, the phone rang. It was a man needing a sign painted immediately. Bill made the sign and was paid $5.00. They pulled their wagon a mile and a half to the store where they picked out the food they needed, for exactly $5.00. “The Lord wants to be involved in our lives and for us to ask for our needs to be met,” said Bill.

In 1966 Bill created a float that was sponsored by the Pioneer Girls and Boys brigade organizations of the Faith Ev. Free Church of Deer Park, Long Island, N.Y. Chet Huntley presented him with first prize; the local paper gave it a front page display of photos so that all could see and read God’s Word.

For 20 years Bill maintained his sign business in New York before he took a bus to Fort Collins, Colo., to seek a job in 1967. He got a job, and realized his arthritic knees were better in the drier climate.

Back in New York, God showed him that his decision to move was good. Their house sold in one week, and his knees were painfully swollen again.

Before beginning to carve, and all through the project, he asks God for guidance. “He works through my art, gives me ideas and ability. God receives the glory for everything, everything I have belongs to Him.”

Bill is a realist who wants to capture in wood what God has created, things that need no explanation. When he first began carving, he made his own chisels out of old files. “Roses are the hardest things to carve. I’ve made plaques with roses and scripture, also crosses and communion tables for several churches. An eight foot long oval plaque with Matt. 11:28, ‘Come unto Me all ye that labour and are heavy laden and I will give you rest’ has a gold leaf border symbolizing that there is no beginning or ending of God.” To show his appreciation of Dr. Billy Graham, Bill presented him with a 36 by 18 by 2 inch carving of Daniel in the Lion’s Den. It now hangs in Dr. Graham’s office.

Bill’s shop sits behind the house, workbenches are covered with drawings, tools line the walls, while sawdust gives credence to the work that has been done here. When Bill was nine years old he started carving a bar of Ivory soap. This versatile carver graduated to using pine, redwood, butternut, oak, and basswood. His talent isn’t limited to carving, he also does oil painting.

‘Chip Chats,’ the magazine of the National Wood Carvers Association has featured two pages of photos of Bill’s carvings. Bill has a letter from The magazine’s editor, Edward F. Gallenstein, declaring him a Master Carver.

Bill praises the Lord for his wonderful wife. “Gene’s always been faithful and took care of me,” he said. Bill prays that his failing eyes will let him continue to see details. He has many projects that he wants to finish.

Having seen and admired Bill Wrage’s carvings in several churches in Fort Collins, I called to ask if he would talk with my husband, Allen, and me about his work. We set a time and were told, “Look for the totem poles in front of our house.”

We were greeted by Bill, who is the image of a cowboy with a New York accent, and his wife of 65 years, Gene. While still at the door, in sight of the totem poles, I asked him to tell us about them.

Bill explained that only shore Indians made totem poles to represent their family trees. His are made of pine and are 8 feet tall. The Thunderbird on top is the chief, the Raven, his wife is next, the rest of the family is shown as other animals. “I treat the wood with quite a few coats of a mixture of one quart boiled linseed oil and ¼ quart turpentine, then cover it with Man O’ War Spar varnish, sanding between coats. After it is properly preserved, he finishes it by painting it with bright colors.

Gene ushered us into their living room where she pointed out furniture that Bill had built and the detailed carvings of men who opened the west stand like sentries on top of the bookcases. “A man once accused Bill of having a real stuffed Bald Eagle hanging on the wall. He had to touch the carving to believe it is made of wood,” said Gene. “My favorite is ‘Tundra,’ a white Mountain Goat, it’s not for sale.”

Bill settled into his easy chair to answer my questions. He was born and raised in Brooklyn, N.Y., over 87 years ago. His keen memory and way of telling his life story makes it come to life as though watching a video.

I soon learned that this humble man would rather talk about how the Lord has lead and blessed his life ever since he accepted Him as his Savior.

His wife and others had prayed for his salvation, but until one day when he turned on the television to watch a cowboy show and heard Billy Graham preaching on art, Bill wanted no part of becoming a Christian. It is strange how God works. He reaches people through things they love.

Life didn’t get easy for the Wrage’s, but from then on, he and Gene prayed about everything.

They’ve seen God work when they had no food in the house; as they joined hands around the table to pray, the phone rang. It was a man needing a sign painted immediately. Bill made the sign and was paid $5.00. They pulled their wagon a mile and a half to the store where they picked out the food they needed, for exactly $5.00. “The Lord wants to be involved in our lives and for us to ask for our needs to be met,” said Bill.

In 1966 Bill created a float that was sponsored by the Pioneer Girls and Boys brigade organizations of the Faith Ev. Free Church of Deer Park, Long Island, N.Y. Chet Huntley presented him with first prize; the local paper gave it a front page display of photos so that all could see and read God’s Word.

For 20 years Bill maintained his sign business in New York before he took a bus to Fort Collins, Colo., to seek a job in 1967. He got a job, and realized his arthritic knees were better in the drier climate.

Back in New York, God showed him that his decision to move was good. Their house sold in one week, and his knees were painfully swollen again.

Before beginning to carve, and all through the project, he asks God for guidance. “He works through my art, gives me ideas and ability. God receives the glory for everything, everything I have belongs to Him.”

Bill is a realist who wants to capture in wood what God has created, things that need no explanation. When he first began carving, he made his own chisels out of old files. “Roses are the hardest things to carve. I’ve made plaques with roses and scripture, also crosses and communion tables for several churches. An eight foot long oval plaque with Matt. 11:28, ‘Come unto Me all ye that labour and are heavy laden and I will give you rest’ has a gold leaf border symbolizing that there is no beginning or ending of God.” To show his appreciation of Dr. Billy Graham, Bill presented him with a 36 by 18 by 2 inch carving of Daniel in the Lion’s Den. It now hangs in Dr. Graham’s office.

Bill’s shop sits behind the house, workbenches are covered with drawings, tools line the walls, while sawdust gives credence to the work that has been done here. When Bill was nine years old he started carving a bar of Ivory soap. This versatile carver graduated to using pine, redwood, butternut, oak, and basswood. His talent isn’t limited to carving, he also does oil painting.

‘Chip Chats,’ the magazine of the National Wood Carvers Association has featured two pages of photos of Bill’s carvings. Bill has a letter from The magazine’s editor, Edward F. Gallenstein, declaring him a Master Carver.

Bill praises the Lord for his wonderful wife. “Gene’s always been faithful and took care of me,” he said. Bill prays that his failing eyes will let him continue to see details. He has many projects that he wants to finish.

Having seen and admired Bill Wrage’s carvings in several churches in Fort Collins, I called to ask if he would talk with my husband, Allen, and me about his work. We set a time and were told, “Look for the totem poles in front of our house.”

We were greeted by Bill, who is the image of a cowboy with a New York accent, and his wife of 65 years, Gene. While still at the door, in sight of the totem poles, I asked him to tell us about them.

Bill explained that only shore Indians made totem poles to represent their family trees. His are made of pine and are 8 feet tall. The Thunderbird on top is the chief, the Raven, his wife is next, the rest of the family is shown as other animals. “I treat the wood with quite a few coats of a mixture of one quart boiled linseed oil and ¼ quart turpentine, then cover it with Man O’ War Spar varnish, sanding between coats. After it is properly preserved, he finishes it by painting it with bright colors.

Gene ushered us into their living room where she pointed out furniture that Bill had built and the detailed carvings of men who opened the west stand like sentries on top of the bookcases. “A man once accused Bill of having a real stuffed Bald Eagle hanging on the wall. He had to touch the carving to believe it is made of wood,” said Gene. “My favorite is ‘Tundra,’ a white Mountain Goat, it’s not for sale.”

Bill settled into his easy chair to answer my questions. He was born and raised in Brooklyn, N.Y., over 87 years ago. His keen memory and way of telling his life story makes it come to life as though watching a video.

I soon learned that this humble man would rather talk about how the Lord has lead and blessed his life ever since he accepted Him as his Savior.

His wife and others had prayed for his salvation, but until one day when he turned on the television to watch a cowboy show and heard Billy Graham preaching on art, Bill wanted no part of becoming a Christian. It is strange how God works. He reaches people through things they love.

Life didn’t get easy for the Wrage’s, but from then on, he and Gene prayed about everything.

They’ve seen God work when they had no food in the house; as they joined hands around the table to pray, the phone rang. It was a man needing a sign painted immediately. Bill made the sign and was paid $5.00. They pulled their wagon a mile and a half to the store where they picked out the food they needed, for exactly $5.00. “The Lord wants to be involved in our lives and for us to ask for our needs to be met,” said Bill.

In 1966 Bill created a float that was sponsored by the Pioneer Girls and Boys brigade organizations of the Faith Ev. Free Church of Deer Park, Long Island, N.Y. Chet Huntley presented him with first prize; the local paper gave it a front page display of photos so that all could see and read God’s Word.

For 20 years Bill maintained his sign business in New York before he took a bus to Fort Collins, Colo., to seek a job in 1967. He got a job, and realized his arthritic knees were better in the drier climate.

Back in New York, God showed him that his decision to move was good. Their house sold in one week, and his knees were painfully swollen again.

Before beginning to carve, and all through the project, he asks God for guidance. “He works through my art, gives me ideas and ability. God receives the glory for everything, everything I have belongs to Him.”

Bill is a realist who wants to capture in wood what God has created, things that need no explanation. When he first began carving, he made his own chisels out of old files. “Roses are the hardest things to carve. I’ve made plaques with roses and scripture, also crosses and communion tables for several churches. An eight foot long oval plaque with Matt. 11:28, ‘Come unto Me all ye that labour and are heavy laden and I will give you rest’ has a gold leaf border symbolizing that there is no beginning or ending of God.” To show his appreciation of Dr. Billy Graham, Bill presented him with a 36 by 18 by 2 inch carving of Daniel in the Lion’s Den. It now hangs in Dr. Graham’s office.

Bill’s shop sits behind the house, workbenches are covered with drawings, tools line the walls, while sawdust gives credence to the work that has been done here. When Bill was nine years old he started carving a bar of Ivory soap. This versatile carver graduated to using pine, redwood, butternut, oak, and basswood. His talent isn’t limited to carving, he also does oil painting.

‘Chip Chats,’ the magazine of the National Wood Carvers Association has featured two pages of photos of Bill’s carvings. Bill has a letter from The magazine’s editor, Edward F. Gallenstein, declaring him a Master Carver.

Bill praises the Lord for his wonderful wife. “Gene’s always been faithful and took care of me,” he said. Bill prays that his failing eyes will let him continue to see details. He has many projects that he wants to finish.


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