Local engineer turned artist wins governor’s award - Ahwatukee Foothills News: Community Focus

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Local engineer turned artist wins governor’s award

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Posted: Monday, May 10, 2010 1:25 pm

At first glance, Richard Altenhofen's Ahwatukee Foothills home looks like any other. Pictures of his two grown sons when they were toddlers hang on the walls of the family home. But take a peek inside the family's three-car garage, and it's a different world.

Altenhofen is a wood-working artist, and the garage is his workshop. It is filled with wood, equipment, finished pieces, works-in-progress and other material.

"Warning: There are dangerous objects everywhere," he said cautiously yet humorously. "Walk carefully. Touch nothing."

The family parks its cars in the driveway to make room for his studio.

Altenhofen was recently chosen, among five other artists to create wood art for the Governor's Art Awards at the Orpheum Theatre last month.

When a selection committee visited Altenhofen's workshop to choose a piece from his collection as an award, a one-of-a-kind bowl made from Australian wood caught their eye, but Altenhofen wouldn't let them have it.

"That one's mine," he told them. "Every once in awhile, I get to keep pieces."

Growing up in Oregon, Altenhofen's dad was a sheet metal worker, and had a workshop in the family's basement. He was allowed to use whatever scraps of wood he wanted, but never power tools. His dad's hand saws, as well as a drill from days in the Navy repairing aircraft, now have a special place in Altenhofen's workshop.

He started out making pens as a hobby, and since retiring as an engineer, has expanded his products and devotion to the craft.

"I was ready for something else, and here I am. When I left, I said, ‘If I don't do it now, it's never going to happen.'"

Some works are for him, like the entertainment center in the family's living room. Many more are for sale at trade shows around the state, or on his website, www.raltenhofen.com.

Often after storms, Altenhofen goes to damaged areas with his chainsaw and collects wood that would otherwise end up in landfills.

"I'm just doing my little part to rescue the wood and give it new life," he said.

With the salvaged wood, Altenhofen creates pens, chess sets, bowls, wine stoppers, bottle openers and other custom pieces.

To make the distinction between wood worker and artist, he weighs if the finished piece is aesthetically pleasing, and his ability to take a piece of rough wood and create something more.

When asked if he considers himself an artist, Altenhofen said, "Somebody else makes that distinction, not me."

Although he has been creating practical yet artistic pieces for years, it is still a time consuming process, something that Altenhofen doesn't seem to mind.

"There's no patience involved. I just love doing it."


Kathleen Gormley is interning this semester for the Ahwatukee Foothills News. She is a sophomore at Arizona State University.


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