Monday, May 27, 2024

Local master woodcarver's work depicts disciples

Daily Inter Lake | April 17, 2022 12:05 AM

Pastor Al Jensen, Director of Pastor Care at Immanuel Lutheran Communities, was searching for a way to bring depth to the Lenten season. It may have been providence that one of the community’s residents, a master woodcarver and artist, offered to share his 12 large relief woodcarvings of the disciples of Christ he’d created years ago.

Frank Tetrault originally carved the series in the late ‘80s, a work inspired by his own desire to enrich his faith and curiosity about the lives of the men who lived side by side with Christ until the time of his crucifixion and resurrection, and who then went on to share their faith in the good news of life after death.

Once Jensen set eyes on Tetrault’s exquisite carvings he crafted his own artistic rendering of the disciples by bringing them to life in his series of Lenten services while unveiling the carvings a few at a time each week. Jensen created dialogs between the disciples, which he used as part of the worship service, posing the question, “If they could speak, what would they say that would inspire us today?”

The series culminates with today’s Easter service and the unveiling of Tetrault’s three-dimensional sculpture, Mary, Mother of God.

“These spiritual giants came forth through Frank’s imaginative mind and caring spirit,” Jensen said. “Understanding the impact Christ’s disciples had on humanity, he wanted to create a way to share it.”

“We have Fat Tuesday and, of course, Easter,” Tetrault said. “So I thought we should do something for the six-week period of Lent to highlight that season.”

WHILE HIS life has been bookended within Kalispell, Tetrault has traveled the world. His father was the son of French-Canadian pioneers Mary and Frank Tetrault from the La Salle district of northeast Kalispell who first farmed in the Tobacco Plains before settling in the Rollins area, later returning to Kalispell so Frank’s father, Ray, who only spoke French at the time, could go to school. His mother’s family settled and farmed in the Whitefish Stage area.

A 1955 graduate of Flathead County High School, Tetrault graduated in ’59 from the University of Montana and served as a U.S. Air Force jet pilot in the ‘60s. In the late ‘70s he studied at national woodcarving schools in Switzerland and Germany.

Tetrault first became interested in woodcarving because both his uncle and his uncle’s father were woodcarvers, the latter having carved religious figures for churches in Dusseldorf, Germany.

He first met the Bavarian master carver Ludwig Kieninger in the Dallas-Fort Worth area of Texas where Tetrault was immersed in his 33-year career as a pilot for American Airlines and where he belonged to a group of carvers who shared their common interest and honed their skills together.

Kieninger, a religious carver, first came to America sometime after World War II and, when he later met Tetrault, they became good friends. He would also become one of Tetrault’s most prominent artistic influences.

AS HIS artistic sense grew, Tetrault found he wanted to bring his own inner religious feelings and sense of wonderment to his craft. Fascinated by the lives of the 12 disciples of Christ — having seen Leonardo daVinci’s painting “Last Supper” while in Europe — he began reading literature about them with the idea of carving relief images of each.

“It was a daunting task,” Tetrault said. “The disciples all had a different story and were individual characters.”

But Tetrault also saw that many were fishermen and all shared Mediterranean characteristics, from their robes to their appearance. The carvings clearly depict in great detail their working lives, with several clasping heavy ropes in muscular arms and hands, and with fishing nets draped over their shoulders.

Over the course of 24 months in Texas, from 1986 to 1988, and after extensive preliminary drawing, Tetrault carved their images in relief on large blocks of linden wood, a hardwood favored by him for its exceptionally smooth grain and subtle texture.

While Tetrault was continuing his work on the 12 disciples he was also doing some bird carving with a carver who was a Methodist minister for the Texas Health Harris Methodist Hospital in Fort Worth. The hospital was building a new chapel at the time and the chaplain was interested in obtaining Tetrault’s creations for the space. Tetrault was motivated to complete the series in time for the hospital to have them bronzed before hanging in the Castleberry Chapel where they remain today.

“It is sincerely hoped that the wood images of these spiritual giants will help focus the viewers’ thoughts on the Lord they represent,” Tetrault wrote on a plaque presented alongside his artwork. “It should be remembered that without the disciples of Christ, Christianity as we know it would not be what it is today.”

There is something in Frank’s artwork that leaves a very personal, unique impression, Jensen said.

“That’s the beauty of art. We pull things from it that maybe another person may never have received.

“We all have the same journey, and yet it’s a different journey when it comes to what we experience in this life,” Jensen said. “Just like the disciples did. And Frank’s brought that to life.”

In 1998, Tetrault also created the 6-foot-tall, 2,000-pound wood grizzly bear carving known as “Huckleberry” that once graced the northwest corner of Main and Center streets in Kalispell. It took Tetrault five months to carve the bear. He also carved from a fir log the Klondyke prospector known as Jacques Laberge who once stood in front of the old Army Navy Store downtown on Main Street. Both sculptures were part of the Hockaday Museum of Art’s Kalispell Art on the Street exhibit that summer.

Tetrault’s woodcarvings of the 12 disciples and Mary, Mother of God, will be on display for one more week. The public is welcome to view them at Buffalo Hill Terrace, 40 Claremont St. in Kalispell. Masks are required within the building and temperatures will be taken.

In addition to his family, Tetrault thanks the following people who offered their thoughts, inspiration, advice and counsel to his artwork:

Ludwig Kieninger, Dr. N. Kupfurele, the Rev. Roger Neeb, Jim Short and Russ Thayer.

Community editor Carol Marino may be reached at 406-758-4440 or


Master carver Frank Tetrault's 12 Disciples carvings at Buffalo Hill Terrace in Kalispell. (Casey Kreider/Daily Inter Lake)


The face of the Judas carving, one of Master carver Frank Tetrault's 12 Disciples carvings at Buffalo Hill Terrace in Kalispell. (Casey Kreider/Daily Inter Lake)


The face of the Matthew carving, one of Master carver Frank Tetrault's 12 Disciples carvings at Buffalo Hill Terrace in Kalispell. (Casey Kreider/Daily Inter Lake)


Master carver Frank Tetrault's 12 Disciples carvings at Buffalo Hill Terrace in Kalispell. (Casey Kreider/Daily Inter Lake)


"FT" carved into the side of each of the 12 Disciples carvings done by master carver Frank Tetrault. (Casey Kreider/Daily Inter Lake)


Master carver Frank Tetrault with his 12 Disciples carvings at Buffalo Hill Terrace in Kalispell on Tuesday, April 12. (Casey Kreider/Daily Inter Lake)