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Native American flute making a ‘labor of love’ for Kalispell-area man

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POLSON – What began as a hobby quickly turned into a labor of love and a business for David Webb.

It all started when Webb, a native of the Black Hills of South Dakota, received three Native American flutes as a gift from a friend in July 2009. He bought a flute in Keystone, South Dakota, the next day, his wife, Sally Webb, said. 

“I could’ve never imagined that he would be in the business, but whatever he does, he does 200 percent,” said Sally, a Lakeside native and retired teacher who taught at the Elmo Public School for two years. 

It takes most flute makers a while to perfect their craft, but David caught on quickly, she said, noting his first flute played well. 

Webb, who retired as an aerial mapper in 2010, had the drafting and engineering background that made his transition into flute making a success. “It’s a gift,” Sally said. 

Webb’s previous job required him to travel across the U.S., and he used that time to learn flute making from craftsmen from Nevada to Pennsylvania. Some of these craftsmen were Native Americans, he said. 

“I got laid off in a corporate buyout in 2010 and decided to go full-time”  into flute making. “I fell in love” with everything about the flutes, he said, adding they make a “real haunting, ethereal sound” that stirs the spirit and calms the soul. 

He notes that Native American flutes sound different than a typical silver concert flute, which makes a “bright, crisp sound.” 

After moving to Montana in May 2010, Webb converted half of his two-car garage near Glacier International Airport into a workshop.

He has used 249 different wood varieties to make some 330 flutes, which range in price from $280-$850. He harvests woods wherever he can, including creek beds, and purchases some from Glacier Hardwoods in Kalispell. Some customers give him the wood they want him to use. 

Some examples of the kinds of wood he’s used include: African zebrawood, African wenge, Hawaiian Koa, black walnut, myrtle, purpleheart, yellowheart and beetle-infested Ponderosa pine. The latter have a blue-stained decorative look, he said. 

Some of the flutes are long, some are short. Some have one drone, or pipe, some two. Webb said that the longer the flute, the lower the pitch. The size of the bore also plays a part. 

Webb uses the influence of a dozen or so Native American tribes in his flute making, including the Oglala and Lakota Sioux, Navajo, Anasazi, Cherokee, Yuma, Mohave, Apache, Mandan, Pueblo, Ute, Iroquois and Omaha. These tribes have similar flutes, and Webb makes a hybrid model based on them. 

“Every indigenous culture in the world has a flute in its history,” he said. 

It can take up to 60 hours to take a piece of wood and make it into a polished flute. He adds deer leather decorative wraps to some. 

In addition to making flutes, Webb also gives flute lessons. 

He will be playing and selling his flutes at the third annual Flathead Lake Festival of Art in Polson July 29-30. Hosted by the Sandpiper Art Gallery, the festival runs from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday at Sacajawea Park. 

The juried art show features a variety of artwork, including painting, photography, pottery, jewelry, sculpture and mixed media. Proceeds will help support the gallery’s scholarship program and overall mission to encourage and promote participation in the fine arts and to educate both members and the general populace about the fine arts and creative process.

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