Creating a Future by Carving History

February 7, 2024

Alan Kohr stumbled into his art. Soon after moving to Frederick Township more than 50 years ago, Alan and his wife Nancy volunteered with the Goschenhoppen Folk Festival. The event is an annual celebration of the life, food and culture of 18th- and 19th-century German settlers, sponsored by Goschenhoppen Historians.

Alan arrived at the festival willing to do whatever the organizers needed. When they asked, “Can you whittle?” he said, “I can try.”

That first year he whittled a stick, while sitting on a hay bale. The next year, he decided to try carving birds and farm animals. Guests of the festival were intrigued by his work and wondered if they could buy his carvings. The year after that he set up a table where he sold his Pennsylvania German-themed birds and animals. In 15 minutes, he sold his entire inventory, and he was hooked.

“Each year I added to my offerings and tried harder to carve more authentic Pennsylvania German-themed animals. I typically focus on farm animals, but I also carve birds, trees and other items,” Alan says. “Over the years we added additional shows with other historical societies. At one point, Nancy and I were selling my carvings at 12 shows a year.”

Keeping up with the product demand was challenging, but Alan loves to stay busy. On the weekends he would cut out the rough shapes with a bandsaw. On weeknights after work, he would whittle while watching TV. “I’m self-taught and evolved my business over time,” he says.

“We put three sons through college, and I retired from my day job as a senior research chemist at Dow Chemical at age 60. Carving has been good to me and I’ve had fun,” he reflects.

“I’ve been trying to retire from folk art, but people won’t let me,” he says with a grin.


Alan and Nancy moved into a home in The Meadows neighborhood at Frederick Living in December 2020. They immediately engaged in the community, finding ways to serve and connect with their neighbors. Nancy joined the choir and Alan was quickly appointed the chair of the Wood Shop Committee.

“We didn’t look anywhere else. We knew we wanted to move to Frederick Living,” Alan says. The couple already had multiple connections to the community. “Our three sons worked at Frederick Living and my mother-in-law was a resident. Plus, all of our neighbors worked at Frederick Living.”

Today Alan does most of his work in the Frederick Living Wood Shop. He does a rough cut with a bandsaw and preliminary shaping with a one-inch belt sander. The rest is done with a whittling knife and hand sanding. When the shape is complete, he paints the piece using acrylic paints in deep, saturated colors that reflect the traditional Pennsylvania-German folk art found in southeastern Pennsylvania.

Alan also makes and sells replica period furniture such as benches and chairs. He’s also working on a family genealogy book. He has traced his family history to the 1500s in Germany and details the family’s emigration to Lancaster in 1728 and their movement around southeastern and south-central Pennsylvania. In addition, he’s writing the history of Bethel Moravian Church. “My family was involved in a very small log church in Swatara Township called Bethel Moravian. The history I’ve found of the church is written in 400 to 500 pages of records in German script, so I taught myself how to read it,” Alan shares.

“My high school German wasn’t the greatest,” he says with a laugh.

No matter what art he’s exploring—whether whittling or writing—Alan finds abundant opportunities to live with purpose in community at Frederick Living.

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