South Salt Lake • After heart surgery led to his early retirement, family therapist Bill Hughes thought about what he could do next.
He picked flute-making, an odd choice for a man who "made the worst birdhouse in the history of my high school," but one that was perfect for him.
During the past 15 years, Hughes has made approximately 7,000 flutes, including six played at the 2002 Winter Olympic Games in Salt Lake City. He also teaches beginners how to make flutes at Pioneer Craft House and Salt Lake Community College (SLCC).
He began concentrating much of his effort on veterans after seeing how many were returning from active duty with severe trauma.
"War is ugly and art is beautiful," Hughes said Saturday at an open studio at the craft house. "War is chaotic and art is tranquil. In war, you follow orders. In art, you follow your own orders."
Hughes, 71, who grew up in Louisiana and Texas, earned a doctorate in family therapy from Brigham Young University and worked for years as a therapist for families, children and couples. Then it came time to figure out his next step.
"This is kind of one of those start-all-over-again things," Hughes said of his flute-making choice.
He found a few diagrams and taught himself how to make American Indian flutes. He uses different kinds of wood, including black walnut and mahogany, to make the instruments.
Although he claims he's not a musician, Hughes plays soothing music on the instruments he produces.
But his joy lies in teaching. He has made two instructional DVDs on flute-making and taught many workshops and classes.
His students appreciate his enthusiasm.
"It's been very enjoyable," said Roy Scott, who is taking Hughes' class at SLCC and is crafting his first flute.
Mike Ferrin, an Air Force veteran who took a flute-making class at the Pioneer Craft House, said Hughes is an excellent teacher.
And Anita Cypert, a Navy veteran, said there were times when she arrived at class feeling stressed but after spending time with Hughes and the other students working on their flutes, she always left in a better state of mind.
"It was almost a spiritual experience working with him making a flute," Cypert said. "The crafts have been very therapeutic."
Pioneer Craft House
The South Salt Lake facility, 3271 S. 500 East, offers art and craft education. For more information, visit http://www.pioneercrafthouse.com. To learn more about Bill Hughes, who teaches flute-making, visit http://www.billhughesflutes.com/.