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Paul and Darlene Bergren

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One of the premier sled designers in the United States, Paul Bergren, along with his wife, Darlene, runs a sled-making business in Minot, North Dakota. Washington, D.C., 2012, photograph by Alan Govenar
Darlene and Paul Bergren receiving their award from NEA Chairman Rocco Landesman, 2012 National Heritage Fellowship Awards, Washington, D.C., photograph by Michael G. Stewart
Paul and Darlene Bergren at the 2012 National Heritage Fellowship Concert, Washington, D.C., photograph by Michael G. Stewart
Nicholas R. Spitzer interviewing Paul, Darlene and Terry Bergren at the 2012 National Heritage Fellowship Concert, Washington, D.C., photograph by Michael G. Stewart

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 him 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."

Watch

Paul, Darlene and Terry Bergren interviewed by Nicholas R. Spitzer, 2012 National Heritage Fellowship Concert, Washington, D.C., courtesy National Endowment for the Arts

Listen

Paul Bergren answers the question 'How did you get started making dog sleds?' Washington, D.C., 2012, interview by Alan Govenar

Darlene Bergren answers the question 'How did you two meet?' Washington, D.C., 2012, interview by Alan Govenar

Paul Bergren answers the question 'How far can you go on a dog sled?' Washington, D.C., 2012, interview by Alan Govenar

Paul Bergren answers the question 'What kind of dogs do you have?' Washington, D.C., 2012, interview by Alan Govenar

Paul Bergren answers the question 'What is your process to make a dog sled?' Washington, D.C., 2012, interview by Alan Govenar

Paul Bergren answers the question 'What kinds of wood do you use?' Washington, D.C., 2012, interview by Alan Govenar

Paul Bergren answers the question 'How long does it take you to make a dog sled?' Washington, D.C., 2012, interview by Alan Govenar

Terry Bergren answers the question 'What was it like in your household growing up?' Washington, D.C., 2012, interview by Alan Govenar

Darlene and Paul Bergren talk about the changes to the dog sledding sport and why their sleds used to sell so well, Washington, D.C., 2012, interview by Alan Govenar

Paul Bergren answers the question 'What are the snowshoes made out of?' Washington, D.C., 2012, interview by Alan Govenar

Paul Bergren answers the question 'What's the sizing based on for the snowshoes?' Washington, D.C., 2012, interview by Alan Govenar

Paul Bergren answers the question 'What kind of shoes do you wear with the snowshoes?' Washington, D.C., 2012, interview by Alan Govenar

Paul Bergren answers the question 'What's the origin of the snowshoe?' Washington, D.C., 2012, interview by Alan Govenar

Paul Bergren answers the question 'What is the Ojibwe shoe and what is it used for?' Washington, D.C., 2012, interview by Alan Govenar

Paul Bergren answers the question 'What would the Indians wear on their feet?' Washington, D.C., 2012, interview by Alan Govenar

Paul Bergren answers the question 'Are people still buying your snowshoes?' Washington, D.C., 2012, interview by Alan Govenar

Paul Bergren answers the question 'What is the meaning of tradition in your life?' Washington, D.C., 2012, interview by Alan Govenar