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Artist Uses Special Skills to Create Wood 'Fan Birds'

  • Zulima Palacio

Cedar fan birds are not considered fine art, but still they require skill and artful hands. The birds carved from wood have deep roots in Europe of the past when men, traveling far from home, sat around at night, carving and telling stories.

Jeff Jacobs has been a carpenter for more than 30 years. Now, he spends much of his time on his hobby: carving birds from a block of wood without a drop of glue. A Michigan logger taught him how to do it 25 years ago.

Jacobs requires a few things: wet wood, mostly white cedar; a good initial cut of the bird’s profile; patient carving that gives shape to what look like feathers and then, his least favorite part - sanding. After sanding, he concentrates on the feathers.

“This is the critical part, this is where you realize you got a nice bird or you wasted your time,” said Jacobs.

As many as 50 slices of wood could emerge from a small block. But before the slices become feathers, Jacobs wets the wood for at least an hour.

Once it's soaked, he begins to fan the wings and weave them. If there are enough slices, Jacobs will make a tail. Once the bird is dry, Jacobs dips it in lacquer.

Jacobs takes the birds to flea markets where he explains the process of making traditional fan birds and he sells each one for about $50.

While other artists produce larger birds, flowers and figures, Jacobs sticks with small birds, mostly hummingbirds. Although he's made several hundred, he's still intent on making more - making them perfect and able to fly… well almost.

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