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In The News

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A Crash Course in Drum Making

June 26, 2008

By Lee Ross
Mountain View Telegraph

Gabe Yellowbird marches to the beat of a different drum, such as drum earrings, drum bolo ties, drum tables and even “invisible drums.”
An American Indian from Cochiti Pueblo, Yellowbird makes his living making and selling all kinds of drums.
The invisible drum, given its name by Yellowbird's granddaughter, is actually the drum's stiffened skin and lacing, but strangely missing the wooden frame.
At a workshop on Saturday, Yellowbird explained that he makes this kind of drum by gently stretching the animal skin over a wooden cylinder, just like a normal drum except the wood is incredibly thin. He waits for the skin to dry and then breaks out the wood, so only the leather is left.
A drum maker since 1972, Yellowbird taught the 10 attendees of the workshop at the Sandia Ranger Station in Tijeras how to use a draw knife to take the bark off a piece of wood and explained some of his techniques for finding a good piece of wood, which involves a long walk through the woods with his grandson, who likes to carry a hatchet and help out.
He also explained how to hollow the wood out, which Yellowbird does with a chisel he made by sharpening a car spring.
“If you happen to see an old Volvo out there sitting without a spring, I took it,” he said.
To make sure everyone would be able to make a drum, Yellowbird had already taken care of those steps. All that was left was to take a piece of wet leather and run a piece of cord through it to secure it to the hollowed-out wooden frame.
“It's really interesting,” said Zack Smith, a teenager who lives in the East Mountains. “Like, how they did it without electronics and stuff.”
Smith, who wore an orange Pink Floyd T-shirt that read “1973 Tour,” attended the workshop with his father. He said he has gone to several workshops at the ranger station, including a lesson on flint knapping, where he learned to make arrowheads.
Workshops are held Saturdays. This week's workshop, a children's archeology day, will include a field trip to the Sandia Cave and a visit to the Tijeras Pueblo Archaeological site. It runs from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.
There will also be a pottery workshop Aug. 30 and 31 and a flint knapping workshop Sept. 20.
There are fee and registration requirements for some of the workshops.
Free wildflower hikes are held every Saturday at 9 a.m. until Sept. 6, and bird walks are held every Tuesday at 8 a.m. through Oct. 30.
The Sandia Ranger Station is in Tijeras south of Old Route 66 on N.M. 337 (also known as South 14). Some fees, such as parking charges, may apply.
There also are Star Parties put on by the Albuquerque Astronomical Society, will be held in the Juniper Area of the Oak Flat Picnic Ground.
To get to the picnic ground, go seven miles south of Tijeras on N.M. 337 and head east on Oak Flat Road.
The viewing starts at sundown on Saturday, and will also be held July 26, Aug. 23, Sept. 6 and Oct. 4.

To learn more about any of the ranger station's above programs, call 281-3304.

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