Creative Pagosa: Jessica Peterson

Photo courtesy Jessica Peterson Jessica Peterson fills a dual role as one of Pagosa’s creative artists — she is an acclaimed musician and she spends hours in her workshop creating  Native American flutes that have found their way to fellow musicians around the world.

Photo courtesy Jessica Peterson
Jessica Peterson fills a dual role as one of Pagosa’s creative artists — she is an acclaimed musician and she spends hours in her workshop creating Native American flutes that have found their way to fellow musicians around the world.

The Pagosa Arts & Culture Project is building a web-based directory of all the creative people and businesses in the community.

By creating this website, it will make these MAKERS easier to find in online search engines and help share the wealth of innovative and talented individuals that call our small town home.

This sort of database is called “cultural mapping” and is being done by communities around the country in order to realize and recognize the value of their creative assets.

The Pagosa Arts & Culture Project is establishing the groundwork for continued collaboration and cooperation and promotional efforts of the combined community. The goal of the project is to establish a solid foundation of cultural and creative individuals and businesses, to create a viable plan for promoting these assets and to promote the Pagosa area as a worthy place of residence for creative people, a productive place for creative business ventures and a desirable destination for arts tourism.

At present, the PACP is planning an event for fall 2013. The event, the MAKERS Expo and Tour, is set for Oct. 12-13.

To register and be listed in the database, go to

In order to highlight the MAKERS in Pagosa, the PACP will profile its members, giving readers of The PREVIEW a sense of the depth and breadth of the creative community.

This week’s MAKER is Jessica Peterson, Pagosa musician and creator of Nighteagle Flutes.

Q: Tell us a little about who you are, where you were born, educated, your family, growing up and how you came to be doing your creative work?

JP: It’s a matter of serendipity that I came to be making Nighteagle Flutes. I was born into a creative family: artists, musicians, writers and woodworkers. After graduating from high school in Pagosa, I studied music and science in Texas and New York.

By the time I returned to Pagosa in 2002, I played several kinds of flutes. That year, I bought my first Native American flute from Brenda and Bill Eaves at Rainbow gifts. It was one of David Nighteagle’s.

Anyone who has a Native flute knows how tempting it is to buy more. I soon owned flutes by several makers. The Nighteagle was my favorite, though, and I wanted another.

Brenda was out of stock, so I tracked David Nighteagle down. He was also out of stock and was looking for someone to pass on his flute-making tradition to. I was immediately interested and wanted to know more. David told me we’d talk another time, since he and his wife were watching American Idol.

There I was, wondering if I would be the recipient of a sort of sacred trust that would transform my life, and he was watching television. It was actually a great beginning: funny, and a lesson in patience.

Q: Describe the objects you make or the creative work you do.

JP: The Native American-style wood flutes I make are carefully tuned so they can be played with other instruments. Some of the flutes have an end-carving. Most of the carvings were taught to me by David and Michele Black (flute maker and first woman mayor of Mancos). Others, I designed. One, the praying woman drifting in her canoe without a paddle, grew out of one of my mistakes.

The flutes have taken on a life of their own. I’ve sent them out to Canada, Russia, France, Germany, England, Switzerland, Sweden, Australia, and an air base in Iraq.

Q: What is your favorite tool or material used in making your work? Why?

JP: Most of my tools were passed on to me by David. He and Michele used these tools to create many Nighteagle flutes. My family also gave me some great tools and helped make my shop safer. So, I’m sentimental about my shop equipment.

For example, I have “Peg,” the little shop vac I inherited from David, with one wheel replaced by a wood dowel. Happily, I also have a shop vac that not only integrates with the router, but functions on all wheels, courtesy of my family.

My favorite tool to use is a small file David modified. It has one job: it helps create the flute’s voice. After getting through the rougher processes using larger tools, I enjoy the delicate motions required to shape and smooth the airway.

A couple of strokes and this file can make all the difference in a flute’s voice.

Q: Do you have a regular routine or schedule?

JP: It’s occasionally regular. Many times, I work long stretches without a break. Sometimes I find myself doing other things when I should be working.

Q: What’s the best advice anyone has ever given you?

JP: To think, be organized, make a plan, and not let life just happen willy-nilly. I’ve proven pretty near incapable of following this advice, which is why I need it so badly.

Q: When you’re not making art, what is your favorite thing to do in Pagosa country?

JP: Explore with my husband, Pete. We like to check out the osprey over the lake, sit in an aspen grove, wade up streams, snowshoe, paddle down rivers with our friends, and bushwhack into new places.

I should add eating out, too. The variety and quality of food in town is amazing, and it’s a great way to see people.

Q: What are your goals for the coming year?

JP: For a long time, I’ve wanted to make natural branch flutes using hand tools. I’m going to try it this year. It may not be a viable goal businesswise, since it promises to be even more time consuming per flute. Still, I’m intrigued by the slower nature of the work and the more individual and self-determined nature of the material.

Q: What is your dream project?

JP: Emerging from the shop with my flutes to bring music to people’s lives. Sharing music is so important. More of our brain is engaged when we’re listening to music than at almost any other time. For those wanting proof of that, it’s out there. Even more important, to me, is that music reaches our spirits. I don’t think there’s a culture on earth that doesn’t make some kind of music. What a great way to communicate.

I recently did a short program on flutes and music at the elementary school in Dulce and included an exercise where the students showed the mood of a piece using pictures. They understood the language of music immediately and were able to distill its complexities and subtleties into feeling, using no words. I loved playing for these bright students and dream of doing more school programs in the future.

To learn more about Jessica Peterson and her flutes visit her website at

This story was posted on May 30, 2013.