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Artisan carves legacy

JERRY McBRIDE/Durango Herald

Mancos woodcarver Jay Fann makes many commissions on doors for luxury residences. He’s also done work for churches and other public buildings. Never picking up a tool or turning on a tablesaw, he took a job in 1981 working as a furniture apprentice in Sante Fe, and has been working with wood ever since.

By Chuck Slothower Herald staff writer

MANCOS – Jay Fann began working with wood after answering a help-wanted ad for an apprentice furniture maker at Taos Furniture in Santa Fe.

It was 1981, and Fann was 31 years old.

“I had never picked up a tool, turned on a table saw,” he said.

The company made reproduction Spanish colonial furniture, and Fann saw a future for himself in wood carving.

Now 63, Fann runs his own business, Jay Fann Carving & Doors, out of a shop in downtown Mancos. Fann has made most of his commissions on doors for luxury residences. He’s also done work for churches and other public buildings, and is increasingly interested in art carving.

“I’ve always done this thing that’s right on the cusp of art and craft,” he said.

Fann lives in an apartment above the shop. The whole building is 3,700 square feet, plenty of room for woodworking, a dart board and a pingpong table.

Most of his work is in Mancos, Cortez, Dolores and from former clients in Santa Fe. Fann said he’s had few commissions in Durango.

Fann appreciates Mancos’ affordable rent, natural beauty and close-knit community of artisans.

“It’s a great community, and scenically it’s hard to beat,” he said.

Fann makes most of his doors out of sugar pine, a wood he describes as light and stable. He does the milling in his shop with power tools, but all his carving is done by hand with short chisels.

He designs his carvings by pencil drawing, eschewing design software such as AutoCAD.

Each door takes about a month to make. They weigh 50 to 60 pounds and start at about $3,000. He installs panels of his carvings in the door frame, rather than carving the door itself.

Carvings on the door itself would crack and twist over time, Fann said.

Fann is a man of the Southwest. He was born in Santa Fe and raised in El Paso, Texas. He attended Baylor University in Waco, Texas, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in theology.

Fann spent more than 20 years in Santa Fe carving doors for homes.

“I’ve spent a few thousand hours on scaffolding carving things,” he said.

Fann formerly worked out of San Juan College’s business incubator in Farmington. He also taught woodworking at the college. There he met Jasper Welch, who was the incubator’s executive director. Welch is also co-owner of DurangoSpace and president and CEO of the National Business Incubation Association.

Welch called Fann a “salt-of-the-earth guy.”

“His customers love him,” Welch said.

Welch praised Fann’s handmade carvings. “There’s not that many people who are true craftsmen.”

Among Fann’s current commissions is a door for St. Rita of Cascia Catholic Church in Mancos. A pencil drawing shows a Bible on one side of the door, and a chalice and paten on the other.

Fann said he’s excited about the church commission.

“This’ll be fun,” he said. “It’s my design – no one else will have doors like this.”

Fann said he sometimes fantasizes about taking up another line of work, but he can’t imagine actually doing so. He is interested in doing more human anatomy art carvings – he’s fascinated by hands – and exhibiting in a gallery.

“I enjoy my work as much as anyone I know,” he said. “It’s a kick.”


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