An Eye for Art: Architect/artist Fred Nastvogel tries to dispel preconceived notions

An Eye for Art: Architect/artist Fred Nastvogel tries to dispel preconceived notions
Fred Nastvogel is pictured with his artwork titled “Ambrosia.”  The pattern of the framed artwork is created from beetles boring into the tree. He made the frame is from OSB, oriented strand board; wood chips with a binding agent. (Lyndi McNulty / Correspondent)

Fred Nastvogel is a regional artist. He is a photographer and wood artist.

Nastvogel attended the University of Pittsburgh, majoring in sociology and mathematics. After graduation, he called a friend of his at Morgan State University who asked him to work for the Baltimore Mayor’s Office, then Mayor D’Alesandro. After several years Nastvogel began to understand that it is “things” that change the world. He has a lot of theories about how to design buildings and environments that would bring people together. They are fragments of his passage through the hippy era, he said.


Nastvogel decided to study architecture at Virginia Tech. He went as a HUD Fellow. When he graduated, he worked in the construction industry. Nastvogel built lots of not spectacular houses. “The trick is to take a mediocre design and make it distinct,” he explained. “There were lots of hidden subtleties in the houses I designed. For example, if you leave the doors open, sunlight shown from one end of the house to the other.” Builders like to have three or four series of homes. When Nastvogel did the designs, he made the design of the lower end models, just in different configurations.

He had three sons when his wife died, so to keep up with them and their schooling, Nastvogel became an engineering instructor at Baltimore Polytechnic Institute. His job was to teach engineering design to high school juniors in an effort to excite them about engineering careers.

At one point in his career, Nastvogel took a sculpture course at Morgan State University. He had put his assignment off until the last minute. He had some old wood in the basement. Nastvogel decided to make a six-foot-tall human figure. He painted it white and the instructor raved, much to his surprise.

When he retired, Nastvogel became bored with television and needed something to do physically. He had always made things; mostly in wood but sometimes in metal. He also did graphics by hand. Among the Nastvogel family there have been many who drafted, hence pencil and ink are second nature to him.

When he retired, Nastvogel became bored with television and needed something to do physically. He makes things easily out of wood.

“Half of being an architect is believing you can do anything,” he said. “Making things is easy. The real generator is the idea.

“My ideas cause you to stumble over your preconceived notions. If you have a boxy white room, you are contained in every day. I propose redefining the edges and make wood pieces to create that effect.”

When he retired, Nastvogel made wooden artistic abstract room corners to change the look of the room as a box. His decorative pieces are made from fine wood and are interactive. His art can be changed and does remain the same. It involves people doing something together.

For example, he created a set of wooden abstract pieces of art, in unusual shapes, on which a variety of shapes can be placed and changed. Nastvogel pictures them in a lunch room in a business, where employees can change them at will. “Everyone can participate and there is no argument about what it will be, for tomorrow it can be something else. They are intended to improve upon inert decoration.”

He also takes photographs and he violated all the things one learns in art school such as color and balance, resulting in unique pieces of art.

“Some of it is irony. I took a photograph of a crumb on a table that I want to produce,” he said. “It is not that one must care about the crumb so much as just seeing the endless stream of images in each day.

“In the end, my predicate is intellectualism. The world is full of people with preconceived notions. You say the word room, one person will think of an office and another a living room. Still another will think of a kitchen,” Nastvogel explained. “Whatever you presume it must be, it is not.

“I can’t help but to be an artist. If I threw everything out today, in a month I would accumulate more things with which to make art,” Nastvogel said.

Currently, Nastvogel is a partner at Offtrack Art Cooperative and Gallery in Westminster ( He can be contacted at