Friday, March 26, 2010

Maine Boatbuiders Show : Episode 3

Normally when I go to the Maine Boatbuilders show I try to walk through the first floor of the building fairly quickly to get an overview of the show. My main purpose is to decide which booths I'd like to go spend more time looking over. There are five main sections and this year, I managed to walk through the front section of the building and into the second section. I went down the left aisle and turned back up the right aisle towards the front of the building. I then saw the following at the Maine Boats, Homes and Harbors Magazine booth:

I stopped.

I stared.

I stayed.

I listened.

The canoe was built by Steve Cayard and a group of Native Americans at the Penobscot Marine Museum in Searsport, Maine. Steve Cayard has been working to bring the traditional skills of birchbark canoe building back to the Penobscot, Passamaquoddy and MicMac peoples. The irony here is that Steve Cayard is an Anglo-American and is really bringing traditional skills back to the native peoples. There are not many people who build these boats today and it is in danger of becoming a lost art. While I'm fairly well read about canoes I only know of a few people in New England who build these kind of canoes. While I'm sure there are other builders, Steve, Henri Vaillancourt, and David Moses Bridges are the only ones I know of - and David is the only Native American.

The goal of the program that is hosted by the Penobscot Marine Museum is to have Native American artists come and learn these skills and bring them back to others. Ben Fuller, a curator at the museum, did an article for Maine Boats, Homes and Harbors about this canoe that can be found here.

Ben was there promoting the museum, the program through which the boat was built and the raffle the museum is holding in support of the program. He was patient in describing the program and the building process, which I really appreciated. What is really amazing is to think about the build process - there are no forms used the way a cedar and canvas canoe is built - the canoe is built from the outside in, not the inside out. Probably the biggest difficulty today is the sourcing of the materials for the canoe. Good Northern White Cedar, spruce root, pitch, and the birch bark itself must be gathered and processed. Traditionally, these boats were built with very few tools - an axe, crooked knife and an awl. Ben indicated that the desired width of birch bark wasn't available, so the builder's had sewn in a panel at the gunwale line.

The canoe was named a "2009 Boat of the Year" by the folks at Maine Boats, Homes and Harbors and the museum is selling 200 tickets for this raffle to help fund the program that built the canoe. More details about the raffle here.

Bob Holtzman, who is the membership coordinator at the museum also hosts an excellent website called Indigenous Boats about non-Western styles of boats. Some really very interesting reading over there - some specifically about this boat. If you'd like to see more pictures from the building process, be sure to check out Bob Holtzman's Picasa photo page.

Bow Lashings with Spruce Root

The folks at Paddlemaking (and other canoe stuff...) also had a great post on this build.

Consider supporting the museum in their effort to keep this history alive!

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