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Mogollon Rim Woodworking –  Preserving the Old and New World wood crafts

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Heber overgaard, AZ
Rick Amon demonstrating the blank he starts with when carving his fan birds.

While covering the Pine Needlers’ quilt show, I came across vendor Rick Amon of Mogollon Rim Woodworking. It was clear as daylight Rick is passionate about his work. Upon an inquiry about his carved fan birds, which he learned about from a contact in Bulgaria, he went into a dissertation on their history. They are delicate pieces; a joy to see. Rick told me carving birds is an old Eastern European woodworking craft dating back to the early 1600’s.  In the mid 1800’s the skill was introduced to the logging camps in Maine, by Eastern European lumber jacks, many who were Finnish. They were working with French Canadian and American loggers and passed a lot of their free time carving and trading skills and techniques. The skill set migrated west to upstate Michigan. In the 1900’s the art almost died out in the United States. It is done with simple, basic tools and involves no glue or fasteners.

 

Rick and Pat, his wife of 27 years, retired in 2011 and bought a second home in Heber-Overgaard last year. Pat likes to quilt and attends the Pine Needlers meetings when in town, which explains why Rick happened to be a vendor at the local quilt show.

Overgaard, AZ
The creative couple Pat and Rick Amon on their lovely deck in Overgaard.

Before retirement Rick worked as a business consultant in information technology for Fortune 100 companies, specializing in finance and accounting. Originally from upstate Maine, he has lived all over the country. “I lived in airports for a long time,” Rick chuckled. Before the internet he taught himself how to work on a computer main frame, including both the hardware and software. “I’m really a UNIX geek,” he said.

 

This lively guy with lots of stories, explained that he first worked with wood as a child in New England. “My first love is restoring boats,” Rick explained. “I restored my first boat in Junior High.” He and Pat, who’s also a New Englander, enjoyed sailing while they lived on the East Coast. Rick was also a stone mason many years and loved that job as well. As you’re starting to see, he’s quite a charismatic character.

 

While still working, Rick met a bowl turner and decided that was something he’d like to do once he retired. Upon their retirement in Sun City West, their neighbor, Don, did bowl turning in his shop. Rick asked Don if he’d teach him to do that, to which Don replied, “No,” but loaned him his extra lathe.

Rick bought some tools and proceeded to teach himself. He struggled to get anything to turn out right. About six months into his pursuit, he went back to visit Don. He did get Don to admit that he used a carbide turning knife, which was a much higher quality than what Rick had bought. Once Rick got the right tool his bowls began to turn out better. He then researched how to get the proper dimensions and came upon the Fibonacci Rule or the Golden Ratio which is an ancient method applied to many disciplines including math, biology, art, music, history, architecture, and psychology. In mathematics, two quantities are in the golden ratio if their ratio is the same as the ratio of their sum to the larger of the two quantities. When Rick applied this equation to his bowls, the proportions then improved and his work looked more appealing to the eye.

Hand carved fan hummingbird

“I went back to Don one more time,” Rick said, “And, I said, ‘You’ve been using the Fibonacci Rule! Why didn’t you tell me?’ Don denied it and I had to believe him. Come to find out Don is a natural when it comes to woodworking.”

 

The desire to succeed is a strong character trait of Rick’s, as he now turns beautiful bowls. So many, that he moved on to learn the art of carved fan birds. He also makes puzzles, spoons, jewelry boxes and more.

 

His quest now, besides perfecting the carved fan birds, is finding, trading and bartering for wood. He gets a lot of it from landscapers in the Valley. In Europe, the fan birds are made of White Cedar, which only grows in certain latitudes…like Finland…and Maine. Rick called an old friend, Joe, up in Maine to see if he knew where he could get white cedar. Joe said to call Louie, a logger in the Allagash in northern Maine. Once Rick got a hold of him on the phone, Louie said he had quite a bit, and that they burn it in the winter for heat, (at which Rick still cringes when telling the story.) Louie shipped some wood to Rick who in turn, picked a box of lemons from his back yard and shipped to Louie. When they spoke Louie asked him, “Where did you get these gigantic lemons?” The ones available in his market looked like a marble compared to what Rick sent him. Seems both parties were happy with their arrangement.

 

A funny coincidence here in town is Rick and Pat stopped in to visit the Wildlife Gallery in Heber, which if you’ve never been there, you should go. Shop owner and artist, Terry Van Loene’s wife is from Russia and happened to have a carved fan bird from her homeland that she gave to Rick upon finding out his quest to preserve this old woodworking craft. Never know who you’ll meet in Heber Overgaard!

 

The quest for thinner wings on the carved fan birds continues. Rick begins by carving the general shape into a piece of the sapwood part of the wood. He then soaks it, works it and soaks it some more. The depth of his wings is now about 1/32” and his goal is to half that. Next year look for Rick in his vendor booth at the Quilt Show on Labor Day weekend or visit his Website at mogollonrimwoodworking.com. I’ll be on the lookout for the hummingbirds with 1/64” wings! I believe he will do it.