By Amy Abdelsayed for Boulder City Review
Tim Blueflint knows that flute making is far more convoluted than being a simple mechanical skill. For the owner of the Native American flute shop Shades of Rez in Boulder City, it is an underrated fine art form, a tie to cultural identity and a voice.
Blueflint, who is a member of the Chipewa tribe, travels the country performing shows as a Native American flutist, attending Native Indian arts festivals, markets, fine art shows and choosing wood for his own creations. While he lives in Henderson, every instrument he produces is made in his little shop on Foothill Drive in Boulder City.
“It’s an interesting thing because not only is the Native flute an object of art, it’s also a musical instrument,” Blueflint said. “So trying to be recognized for the functionality and the preciseness of the instrument, and yet still be recognized for the beauty of the art is my goal.”
Blueflint has sold Native American flutes to clients from all over the world. He has buyers in Canada, Japan, Belgium, Italy, Denmark, Australia and England, just to name a few.
His flutes have caught the attention of the popular documentary television series “How It’s Made” on the Discovery Channel. Blueflint says that the show reached out to him and shot a segment about his handcrafted flutes for an episode that airs in the new season early this fall.
Blueflint says that a basic Native flute can take anywhere from six to eight hours to make, but the more intricate flutes can take weeks, or even months, to complete. And while his flutes start at $130, he says that some of them sell for over $12,000.
There is a reason for the high price. Each flute is a combination of concept, design, craftsmanship and technique.
Blueflint said that he personally hand picks all of the wood used for each flute. You won’t find wood from Home Depot in his shop anytime soon.
“You need to find just the right piece of wood and other pieces of wood to match it and contrast it,” he said. “When I’m on the road, that’s when I go to hardware stores and buy my wood. Mostly little one-man sawmills or reclaimed (woods). In some cases I harvest my own.”
Blueflint said that right now he has some reclaimed fleets in his inventory of Alaskan Yellow Cedar that once formed the trusses of the original roller coaster at Disneyland.
“They come with these cool little stories,” he said.
The slogan of his shop, “Native American Flutes for the Seventh Generation”, has quite the story as well. When asked what he meant by “seventh generation,” Blueflint smiled and said that the slogan had already done its job.
“I put that in the name because I wanted people to ask,” he said. Blueflint explained that “seventh generation” is a universal Native American teaching that started with the Algonquin people in the north east but had been adopted nation wide.
“When we, as people in the present time, make any kind of decisions that have far reaching effects – whether it be economy, environment, business, or whatever – we should consider how our decisions are going to affect seven generations from now,” he said.
But for Blueflint, the idea works looking back as well.
“When I think about seventh generation,” he said, “I think about seven generations ago: the people that were here that protected the traditions of flutes, Native American traditions – sometimes to the point that they gave their lives to protect them. Those people where truly making those decisions and trying to preserve those traditions so that today we can enjoy, honor and respect those things.”
Blueflint said that he has been playing flutes longer than he has been making them; he has been a flutist for about 25 years and a flute-maker for about 10. He said becoming a flute-maker just seemed like the natural progression.
“They say curiosity killed the cat, well actually curiosity made me a flute maker,” he said. “Even to day I look at these things and I think, ‘How awesome, I made that.’”
Blueflint refuses to work on a flute if things do not flow or if he is lacking creative rhythm, despite it being his main source of income. Sometimes he needs to break away from the shop, he said, and do some fly fishing at the ponds in Boulder City until he gets inspired again.
“It’s important,” he said. “It’s art, not manufacturing.”
“As an artist you’re always pushing the envelope. You’re never really satisfied where you are. And if you are, well then you are just manufacturing and you’re not creating anymore.”
This article was originally published here: Boulder City Review