Paul Bergren built his first sled in 1978 and has since developed into one of the premier sled designers in the country, seamlessly blending aesthetics and function. Today, he and his wife Darlene run a sled-making business in Minot, North Dakota, and Paul's sleds -- widely respected for their craftsmanship -- are used by champion racers across the globe, including several champions of the grueling Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race in Alaska.
Paul, from Bersford, South Dakota, met Darlene while stationed with the Air Force in her hometown of Minot, North Dakota. The two married in 1964 and have remained in Minot ever since. They raised five children, and Paul frequently made snowshoes to outfit his family on trapping expeditions.
Paul's interest in dogsleds began when one of his children asked for a snowmobile to use while trapping. Instead, the family got a dog, and Paul made a sled; soon enough the entire family was hooked on dog-sled racing. As they attended more and more races, Paul's interest in sled design grew. He began building sleds full-time after an accident left Paul unable to pursue his original career as a farrier and horse-shoer. The sleds are handmade of steamed and bent white ash that is laminated for durability and lightness and are stitched with rawhide in an aesthetically pleasing pattern.
The Bergrens share their craft with countless others through apprentice programs and school residencies, working with groups such as the North Dakota Council on the Arts traditional arts apprenticeship program and the North Dakota School for the Deaf. Additionally, they have worked with Boy Scout and Girl Scout groups and made presentations at craft festivals and workshops throughout the northern United States.
"Paul and Darlene have become legends in their medium of traditional sled making, and in their generosity of sharing those talents with others who want to learn," noted Robin and Paul Carlson, Norwegian-American folk artists, in their nomination support letter. "They are persistent not only in their journey to maintain excellence and authenticity in the traditions of their craft, but also in their earnestness to share their knowledge with others."
Photos by Jim Johnson, courtesy of the North Dakota Council on the Arts.
National Endowment for the Arts · an independent federal agency