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Fred Helk’s Specialty Is Carving

New Anderson Artists Guild member Fred Helk had planned on attending college right after high school, but that goal was delayed by six years in the U.S. Navy. “I went into service during the Cuban missile crisis and came out during Vietnam,” he said.

At that point, he attended the Ringling School of Art in Sarasota and has worked as an artist his entire life, supplemented by odd jobs, mostly doing illustrations for marketing and advertising. “I did painting and artwork for hamburgers and hot dogs and anything they advertised on TV,” he said. “But then photography came into play, and it wasn’t worth the time to paint pictures [for ads].” One year, he put up satellite dishes but hated it. “That was way out of my line,” he said.


His specialty is carving, and during his time in Sarasota, he created primarily birds. The owner of the gallery where he sold his work liked it so much that she recommended it to Florida Wildlife magazine, which featured Helk’s birds in a three-page spread in the March 1991 issue.


He’s currently working on a series of tropical fish from Atlantic Ocean reefs, as well as a trio of seahorses called The Three Graces.


He recently started using basswood after mainly relying on white pine and clear pine. “They hold up good and take sharp tools,” he said. “The trick is to have tools so sharp that if you look at them, they cut you.” The tighter the grain, the easier the wood is to carve. One type he’ll never use again is mahogany because its grain runs five different ways.


He and his wife recently moved to Anderson to be near their daughter. Though Helk no longer has the workshop he once had, he’s making do with a refitted outbuilding and a room inside the house, where he researches details of different wildlife and then carves his creations.


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