by Bruce Strand, Arts editor
Fred McCluskey has been a popular attraction at ArtSoup festivals with his blacksmith demonstrations and finely-crafted art such as wind chimes and sculptures and door fixtures.
McCluskey, 68, will appear at ArtSoup today, but in a wheelchair and only briefly. He was paralyzed from the waist down by a rare disease, Transverse Myelitis, last August, and hospitalized until April. Back home, he’s in good spirits. His arms still work, but his hands are getting weaker.
“If my hands don’t improve, I won’t be doing much of the physical stuff,” he said, “but I can still do designs on my computer. I can help Brett with that.”
Brett Henkemeyer, 2013 Spectrum graduate, a protege of McCluskey’s, paired with him at last year’s ArtSoup. Today, he will carry on alone, with McCluskey’s works on sale. He’ll put up a donation bucket, too.
McCluskey praised his young charge: “Brett has his own forge and has done some beautiful work. He’s quite an artist, with his drawings.”
McCluskey, an electrical engineer before taking up his second profession, has been a fixture at the Anoka County Fair, Farmers Markets, and art shows. Customers are builders, door companies, architects, designers and “just regular people.”
“When I got sick I had enough work to last until June,” said McCluskey.
Due to dzziness, and slight soreness in his neck, he had checkup last Aug. 4. He took a short nap there, and woke up with his legs paralyzed.
“It’s a total shock … You’ve used your legs for 68 yards and all of a sudden they don’t work.”
Months at Veterans Hospital went by before doctors could diagnose what paralyzed him.
McCluskey is making the best of it, but sorely misses his art.
“It’s been a fire in my belly for many years, and that doesn’t go away.”