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DAILY CAMERA, Page 1D – Friday Aug 10, 2001



By Michelle Gilles

With the garage door wide open, the morning lights glint off the 20-inch blade of a Davis and Wells band saw. Sawdust floats in the air and settles on the table saw. Chisels and sanders, lined up on shelves, are close at hand, soon to be put to work on the two hand-crafted, rich mahogany doors that Anne Shutan is designing and sculpting in her North Boulder studio.

Wood sculptor and door artist Shutan slowly runs her hand over her newest creation. Still a work in progress, a fine layer of dust from sanding still clings to it.

“Art is my teacher of how I’d like to live my life,” Shutan says about the creative process of building and designing wooden doors. “I learn about patience by sitting with wood.”

Making a door is not a straightforward enterprise for Shutan. One miscalculation can lead to an entirely different result.

“I’ve learned to be open to what the mistakes teach me,” she says. “A mistake can be the door to new creativity, and sometimes they become the most exciting part. If I make a mistake, I know that it’s a road to magic and not an oops.”

Learning to take creative risks was not easy for Shutan. It took finding her medium – wood – and the right teacher.

“I was never into art until I got into wood,” says Shutan. “I had the same art teacher, Ms. Reed, from kindergarten through eighth grade. I was a great student, but she said, ‘Stick with academics. Forget art.’ And I did. I was happy to. I was traumatized. It scared me to take risks. Now I do it for a living.”

Shutan, 43, now embraces the creative challenges posed by carving and shaping wooden doors that grace the entrances of homes across the nation. Each of her doors, which range in price from $5,000 to $15,000, is shaped and designed differently in her garage turned work studio. The double door she is currently making reminds Shutan of working with building blocks, because of the odd-sized squares and rectangles that fit together like a puzzle to create the two asymmetrical doors.

Twenty years of working with wood has brought Shutan to this level of comfort and confidence. She started in Colorado Springs with Van Norman Design, a production furniture company, then went to work with a cabinet maker.

But it was in a graduate program at Long Beach State in California where she met the man who would forever change the way she worked with wood, Jan DeSwart, A 77-year-old Master woodworker from Holland.

“One of the first things he said to me is, ‘I am going to teach you to use a band saw like a pencil.'” Shutan recalls the moment years later in her workshop, dwarfed by her 6-foot tall band saw, her favorite piece of woodworking equipment.

“I could see the light bulbs going off over his head,” Shutan says, using her hands to imitate the gestures of her mentor and teacher. “He’d take a piece of wood and start making something, and then you could see another light bulb go off. He would turn off the band saw, take off his glasses and pull the cigar out of his mouth and say ‘Annie, if you ever have a choice of taking the mystery or the obvious, go with the mystery.’

“He’d say that with that sweet little smile, like this is what you do. On the outside I just kind of gave him a nod like I hear you, but on the inside I knew that I was in the midst of a spectacular gem of a moment. It was amazing for me. Somehow he saw in me something that I didn’t even know existed.”

With her skills and talent now as sharp as the tools she wields, Shutan concentrates on creating one-of-a-kind hand-crafted doors that greet, welcome and set the tone for the rest of the home.

“She went with vertical lines and curved lines on this 7-foot by 8 foot double door, so one side looks very feminine and one side looks very masculine,” says Dominique Gettliffe, a Boulder architect who is building a home in [P]ine Brook Hills with one of Shutan’s doors. “It’s quite nice, not overbearing. A door can be ostentatious, but it’s not. It’s a beautiful sculpting of the wood and the work she puts into it is very caring and it permeates through. And the beauty of the wood really comes out so you feel like touching it.”

Wood has long been a medium of choice for the door makers, but Shutan creates hers with a decidedly modern flair. Both sides of the door reflect the artistic pattern, and often she will incorporate bits of glass or copper.

“It’s just wonderful, It’s mahogany and has a little piece of glass in it to peek out of,” says Hildy Armour of Jamestown about her door. “It’s very welcoming. It just draws you into the house. I was looking for a door when we did this huge remodel and Annie showed up, and I thought ‘this is fantastic.’ The door became the centerpiece for the remodel, and when it was done we had this dedication ceremony for it.”

Shutan says her door designs take hours of hard work, but that the time and toil are a labor of love that works for her on many levels.

“The metaphor with a door is that it’s the opening,” Shutan says, as she pulls open a wooden door that she carved into swaying curves and willowy lines. “I have always said that I just need to open the door and get to the next place. And somehow, I’m putting that into my work.”