The Penobscot Marine Museum has been hosting a seminar to help keep the tradition of Birchbark canoe building alive. It is an art form which up until recently was nearly forgotten by the First Peoples of the Penobscot, Passamaquoddy and the Maliseet. Last summer, the museum hosted one of these seminars and master builder and former WoodenBoat School instructor Steve Cayard led a two-week long class on how to build these traditional boats. The canoe was named a "Boat of the Year" by Maine Boats, Homes & Harbors magazine - and for good reason - here it is:
(Photo by Jeff Sher)
Here's the article about the canoe from Maine Boats Homes & Harbors written by Ben Fuller, one of the Museum's curators.
Steve Cayard has been teaching about the subject for quite some time and one of his students and now assistant David Moses Bridges of the Passamaquoddy is featured in a video here. (Thanks, Scot!) Now that Steve has passed these skills along to David, he's been passing them along as well.
To help fund this program, the museum has been working to obtain grants. This year, they are also raffling off the birchbark canoe made in last year's seminar and featured in the article. If you are interested in supporting the Penobscot Marine Museum's efforts to keep these skills alive, please look here.
Please - help keep this tradition alive!
While there may be some duplication - here is the re-post from my visit to the Maine Boatbuilders Show.
* * * RE-POST * * *
I saw the following at the Maine Boats, Homes and Harbors Magazine booth:
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, Maliseet 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 RootThe 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!