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Features - Posted October 26, 2012 noon
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photos by Jeff Harbin, Life of Riley Photography

Beneath the Wood

Three generations of family continue to preserve waning trade through club

What do family and lumber have in common? That’s a conversation to take up with the Davis’s, whose family tree has a deeply rooted history in the art of carpentry. What began in 1947 with Gene Davis has branched into a family tradition carried on from son, to son, to son. These two entities have served as the foundation for generations of men with a profound bond ingrained in faith, hard work and respect.

As Gene speaks of his humble beginnings, the gentle rasp in his soft-spoken words combined with his rough, worn hands emit images of earlier days in which handmade craftsmanship was the standard rather than the exception.

“When you have a family, you have to feed them,” he stresses. “When I came out of the service, I needed something to do. My cousin was kind of a carpenter so I started working with him a little bit. Next thing I know, I was so far involved in it that it became my trade. I built my first house for my parents when I was 21 years old. It’s always been a fascination to work with wood and to have something that when you are finished, you can look at it and say, ‘This is what I’ve done.’”

It’s no surprise Gene’s passion for carpentry inadvertently instilled itself in his son, Danny, at an early age. Danny knows what it means to be a carpenter in Amarillo.

“I remember going to work with my dad on a house he was building in Bishop Hills when I was 5,” he recalls. “He was in partnership with a man and they were custom builders. When I was 12 or 13, he started teaching the Construction Building Trade course in 1967 at Caprock High School. That’s when I began to have exposure to a shop, and it’s just been my whole life.”

This common bond of melding wood into masterpieces has served as the backbone for a relationship between a father and a son that is truly rare. Years and years of projects have allowed the two to become one-minded to the extent they rarely need to speak to know what the other is thinking.

Danny’s face lights up as he talks about working with his father and the memories they share. “I love to emulate my dad,” he says with pride. “I always wanted to please him. When I cut a piece of wood right, I got a lot of admiration and affirmation from him and I fed off of that. It spurred a lot of creativity. If I could express what it was in my head, he knew how to build it. It’s really difficult to explain, but he was the practical side and I was the creative one.”

Danny’s gestures and facial expressions become more and more animated as he recounts the days of coming home to help his father. “I remember when we lived in Colorado and it being almost like a family tradition of Dad waiting until the last minute to get his Christmas projects done, and us coming in a few days early to the shop to help him get all of his projects finished,” he says. “I always looked forward to those days.”

Danny and his wife, Becky, a creative seamstress and painter in her own right, have worked to establish the same loving and affectionate relationship with their own children. Their son, Josh, has also taken an interest in the carpentry trade.

“To me, a lot of the things Dad says about Granddad feel the same to me,” Josh says exuberantly. “I’ve always loved [woodworking] and wanted to do it but it’s sort of an intimidating thing. But really, I think the biggest thing for the history of our family is the opening of our shop and it’s really given my dad and I a whole lot of time together. I think the older I get, the more value there is in my life of what my dad and granddad have to offer as a trade. Lately, I see a lot of my dad in myself. And that’s really cool because in a way I see a lot of my granddad in me, too.”

Now, Danny is attempting to bring the bond that has unified three generations of Davis men to Amarillo with The Shop. “It’s been Danny’s dream for a long time to have a membership-based woodworking shop similar to a gym where people can come and use table saws instead of treadmills,” explains Becky. Danny, who has taught Construction Technology at Caprock High School for the past 10 years decided to make that dream become a reality this year.

“I think there is something in our society that has become lost and it’s the heritage of the generational passing down of values, craftsmanship and how to make a living,” he ponders. “I don’t see that too often in many families. The practical side of craftsmanship is almost becoming a lost art. The idea of a member-based woodshop really has some validity and a place in our community because there are a lot of guys that wanted to take woodworking, or did take woodworking but they don’t have an outlet for it at all. Now they do.”

The Shop allows Gene, Danny, Becky, Josh, daughter Sarah and her husband, Peter, as well as other members of the family, the opportunity to give back to the community while educating the next generation about a trade that Danny feels is fading. “Some of the things I’ve passed on, they call them heirlooms, I’ve tried to fix for my children so that they can keep them and pass down to their children.”

Danny hopes to offer members a chance to create an heirloom of their own, a way for them to strengthen their family bonds. “That’s why we wanted to offer an heirloom toy-making class so that people could build something with their own hands that will last for generations to come,” explains Danny. “I don’t remember buying my kids anything for Christmas, ever. I always made everything we’ve given and it’s just such a joy to be able to do that.”

The cohesive bond of the Davis family emanates, and their admiration and fervor for the art of carpentry is palpable. The collective efforts of Gene, Danny and Josh to educate others in order to uphold this esteemed trade proves that it is worth preserving.

“The whole idea behind The Shop is to offer Amarillo my dad. And tied on with that is this huge, awesome space that you can work in,” Josh exclaims. “I think that if you don’t keep some craftsmanship alive, sooner or later no one will have any idea how to do anything.”

For more information about The Shop, visit theshopamarillo.com or call 373-5950.

by Ethan Black

Ethan is currently finishing his graduate degree in Sport Management from West Texas A&M University, with an emphasis on Sport Sociology and Marketing. In his spare time, he enjoys playing sports and spending time with family and friends.
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