Archive for the ‘Maritime’ Category

Restoring the Maria

Monday, March 6th, 2017

 

One of the MCC Traditional Arts Apprenticeships being funded this year is to master shipwright and National Heritage Fellow Harold A. Burnham and his son Alden Burnham in wooden boat restoration — a skill that is becoming increasingly endangered. As Harold pointed out in his application, “Since the advent and acceptance of modern materials (mainly fiberglass and steel) for boat and shipbuilding, the wooden shipbuilding industry has all but disappeared, and many of the supporting industries, the requisite skills, and means of passing them on have gone with it.”

The goal of the apprenticeship is to rebuild and restore The Maria, a 23-foot vessel based on the lines of a historic Maine lobster smack. Named for Alden’s grandmother, she was the first vessel Alden’s grandfather built in 1971. The Maria was the perfect size for the young family to sail up and down the New England coast. But in 1972, she was sold out of the family to fund an overseas vacation. When Harold was in high school, he tried to buy her back, offering a more than fair price, but the owner wouldn’t sell. Harold was patient, finally buying the sloop in an estate sale in 2008. By that time, she was in pretty rough shape; large amounts of rot were found in her keel. The MCC apprenticeship was just the incentive Harold and his son Alden needed to finally get to work on rebuilding and restoring Maria.

The family connection was one reason to salvage her, but Harold pointed out others, “There are compelling reasons for repairing or rebuilding an old boat, and as important as the reasons are the lessons that can be learned. Old boats teach you about the materials, the techniques, and the culture of the people that built them.”

Harold A. Burnham’s life revolves around building or operating boats. He started building and restoring boats in the family shipyard in Essex, where boatbuilding has been not only a family tradition, but part of the culture, dating back to the early seventeenth century. This black and white portrait shows three generations of Burnhams, with Alden in the center.

Although building full-scale historic representations of indigenous fishing vessels for use in cultural tourism has helped rekindle an interest in the region’s maritime traditions, Harold is the first to admit that it has not been a lucrative or easy way of life. “People always used to ask [my father] why he thought he could build boats,” Alden recalls. “His answer to them was simple and yet profound; He knew that he could do it because his father had done it, and he knew people that had done it, and through their efforts, they found a way.”

Alden Burnham, who is now one full year out of college, has grown up around boats. He recalls that when he was 14 years old, an old gray skeleton of a wooden sailboat was dropped in the mud behind their family house on the marsh. He rebuilt the 11-foot turnabout and had a front row seat as the double sawn frame, trunnel-fastened schooners Fame, Isabella, and Ardelle came together outside his house in the shipyard. He appreciates, now more than ever before, what he is father and grandfather can teach him.

We paid a visit to the Burnham shipyard on an unseasonably warm late February morning. Muck and snow melt all around the yard foretold the mud season soon to come. We entered the “barn” where The Maria took up three quarters of the space on the ground floor. We gathered around her to take a look at the progress being made.

Harold, in his characteristic dry humor, remarked, “And you can see, it’s nice and neat in here. No trip and fall hazards.” We watched our step.

“So tell us what we’re seeing right here,” I said.

“Well, you can see that the keel is new. The first thing we did was take the whole keel off and put a new keel in it. All the ribs are getting sisted.”

“Sisted,” I repeated, not familiar with the term. “How do you spell that?”

Alden, who was nearby by a board through the table saw, piped up, “Sistered.” (Sistering is basically a construction term meaning to strengthen or reinforce a structural member by attaching a stronger piece to a weaker one.)

While we were there, Harold and Alden worked independently. Alden was busy preparing new ribs, using the planer and the table saw.  The day before, Alden had steamed, bent, and installed seven ribs.

In this photo below, you can see the recently installed ribs which are untrimmed.

While Alden concentrated on planing and sanding ribs, Harold was busy threading and painting a piece of pipe that will connect to the rudder. “That’s really the trickiest part — the mechanical end. Like how to connect the metal to the wood — the engine to the boat, the rudder to the boat.”

 

It turns out that working on The Maria is the perfect learning situation. In Harold’s words, “This boat is a nice size . . . The nice thing is is that all the installation of an inboard engine, the rigging, the propeller shaft and shaft log and the rudder and all of the geometry of how to put all the metal and wood together, is the same on this as it is on a large boat. This is great learning tool. . . If he falls in the footsteps of his father and grandfather, this boat will be too small for him in fairly short order.”

Five months into the project, Harold and Alden have replaced the keel, sternpost, and worn timber for Maria as well as many frames. They’ve gotten the shaft log ready and the hole prepared for the rudder port. Now that the weather is warming up and the daylight hours longer, they will make real progress. Next up is sistering all of timbers, re-planking her hull, replacing her deck and cabin, installing an engine and systems, building new spars and rigging, and making sails for the vessel. They’ve set a launch date of May 27th.

 

Bringing a Skill Forward: Apprenticeship in Ship Wheel Making

Thursday, February 2nd, 2017

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Master craftsman Bob Fuller was fortunate to have grown up in a boat building family, where he apprenticed under his father and grandfather. The family developed the Edson Yacht Wheel and has been making wheels for Edson International in New Bedford, Massachusetts since 1965.

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In 1990, Bob founded his own shop,   South Shore Boatworks, which specializes in custom boat building, finishing and restoration work, and handmade wooden ship’s wheels. In fact, Bob Fuller may be the only craftsman in the country today who is still making wooden ship wheels by hand. This highly specialized maritime craft involves pattern making, metal working, marine joinery, and fine woodworking. There are only a limited number of places to learn marine joinery. Although a few boatbuilding schools exist along the New England coast, one of the best ways to learn is one-on-one under the guidance of a skilled master.

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Bob Fuller and John O’Rourke were awarded an MCC Traditional Arts Apprenticeship last fall. They typically meet on Sunday mornings from 8:30 to noon. We were there to check in on their progress and observe some of the In late January, Russell Call and I paid a visit to his South Shore Boatworks in Hanson, Massachusetts. You might expect such a place to be situated on the water, but it’s located in an Industrial Park, 30 miles from the coast!

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John is a recent graduate of the North Bennett Street School where he earned a degree in preservation carpentry. “I learned mostly historic buildings, nothing about maritime woodwork or marine joinery. In preservation I learned to restore historic structures, historic windows. Try to keep things that were made by hand a long time ago around. So this is very similar. And trying to keep the craft alive.” In contrast, Bob adds, “I don’t work in houses. I chose to work on things where nothing is ever straight. And generally on boats, if something looks straight or looks plumb, it’s wrong.”

Before showing us what they were currently working on, Bob oriented us by explaining the terminology of a ship’s wheel. “Basically, you’ve got the hub, it’s either bronze or it’s chrome plated, but it’s a piece of bronze. And then you have the spokes. The spokes go from inside the hub out. And then you have the pieces in-between here. I call them segments. Some people call them fellows, which is a word that has more to do with wheel making, like for carts. And then on the top of it, this is a band – it kind of bands things together. And then beyond that, on the spoke, you have the king spoke, which that designates, gives you a reference to where the steering should be neutral.”

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These three turnings along the top of the king spoke has always been the family’s signature. “It gives you a sense of feel, especially if you’re operating the boat at night where you can’t have a lot of lights on inside the cabin because it will just blind you, you can’t see out. This way you have a sense as to where the steering is.”

The wheel John was currently working on when we visited is about 2/3rd done. Twenty-eight inches in diameter, it has eight spokes. “There’s a lot that goes into the actual finishing of it, Bob stresses. “Sanding it, hand sanding and then lots of coats of sealer and varnish. . . The wheel I just finished for a customer, the process, the varnishing, was a total of two coats of sealer, and eight coats of hand varnish. And it was a big wheel. It took me roughly two weeks to finish it.” A wheel like this sells for between $2,800 and $3,000. The price can go up from there depending on its complexity, that is, whether is has additional brass band on top or custom engraving on the hub.

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In addition to building wheels for Edson, Bob Fuller has customers around the world. Last year he was commissioned to build a wheel for the 50-foot, passenger-carrying lobster boat that services Acadia National Park. High profile wheels include a replacement wheel for Robert Kennedy’s wooden yawl Glide. 

It was interesting to hear Bob talk about a recent wheel  commission for the new luxury fiberglass motor yacht Cakewalk, built by Derecktor Shipyards. “It was an afterthought. The whole bridge on this boat was set up for using computer settings and all that kind of stuff, but both the captains, an Australian and an American captain, they felt strongly that that boat need a wheel and it would have looked really funny without it. It’s kind of strange today because, with all the computerized stuff — the joy sticks, they call it ‘fly-by-wire’ — a lot of boats don’t have steering wheels anymore. But it’s such a part of our heritage and tradition, that I think it’s going to continue onward.

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“We’re preserving the skills to move this forward for a couple of generations. It is just such a part of our maritime tradition, in Massachusetts especially. Shipbuilding, fishing, boat-building, that’s why I feel strongly about this. I learned from my grandfather and father, apprenticing with them. And, if it wasn’t for a situation like what I’m doing with John, I also have someone else that works with me too that’s learning, but not part of the official apprenticeship – where would someone learn this?”

“It’s a great atmosphere when you can teach people the skills that are required to do a craft. It’s been a great opportunity to show this to John in the apprenticeship, to bring a skill forward. . . . this is part of our heritage, as I mentioned before. This needs to be brought into the future. Largely, that’s what the [Massachusetts] Cultural Council is good at, whereas this is such a small niche, it’s hard to, you don’t really fit into someone’s idea of being an industry, but it really is a cottage industry. And that’s what’s kind of going along the wayside. Skills get lost for generations and then all of a sudden, no one knows how to do it anymore.”

Maggie Holtzberg runs the Folk Arts & Heritage Program at the  Massachusetts Cultural Council. Photos by Russell Call.

A new round of Apprenticeships are awarded!

Wednesday, August 31st, 2016

We  are delighted to announce the next round of Traditional Arts Apprenticeships funded by the Massachusetts Cultural Council. Master artists will work one-on-one with apprentices in the following traditional art forms: wooden boatbuilding and restoration, the design and making of wooden steering wheels, Cambodian traditional ornamentation, West African dance and drumming, Cape Breton and Scottish fiddle, Cape Breton step dance, and North Indian Mithila art. Apprenticeships last for ten month and culminate in some sort of a public event.

Wooden boatbuilding and restoration:  Harold A. Burnham, master artist and Alden Burnham, apprentice.

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Wooden ship steering wheels: Bob Fuller, master artist and John O’Rourke, apprentice

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Cambodian traditional ornamentation: Yary Livan, master artist and Panit Mai, apprentice

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West African dance and drumming: Sidi “Joh” Camara, master artist and Tiemoko Camara, apprentice

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North Indian Mithila art: Sunanda Sahay, master artist and Anindita Lal, apprentice

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Cape Breton and Scottish fiddle: Emerald Rae Forman, master artist and Elizabeth Kozachek, apprentice

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Cape Breton step dance: Mary C. MacGillivray, master artist and Jennifer Schoonover, apprentice

    Mary MacGillivray     Jen Schoonover dancingd

Traditional Arts Apprenticeships are awarded every other year. If you are interested in applying, the next deadline won’t be until April of 2018.

Musical worlds

Tuesday, October 7th, 2014

One of the gratifying things about being a folklorist is being able to connect tradition bearers with potentially influential people, resources, and opportunities. When done well, the folklorist plays the role of being what Malcolm Gladwell called a ” connector” in his book, The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference.

Soon after meeting Sushil Gautam, a local Nepalese sarangi player who helped establish the Music Museum of Nepal, I had the good fortune to meet Darcy Kuronen, Curator of the Musical Instruments at the Museum of Fine Arts. It turns out that in this collection of over 1,100 musical instruments, there is no Nepalese sarangi. So it was with pleasure that I was able to introduce Sushil and Darcy to one another. Time will tell if something comes of their acquaintance.

The MFA’s Musical Instruments Gallery is a little gem. The intimate sized gallery is filled with musical instruments and sound samples from around the world. For the past dozen years, Darcy has programmed regular gallery talks and demonstrations, engaging in conversation with visiting musicians who bow, pluck, finger, or breathe life into the featured instruments.

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On Monday, October 6th, that musician was Joey Abarta, who, coincidentally, was one of the six master artists who was recently awarded a Massachusetts Cultural Council Traditional Arts Apprenticeship grant. Joey had brought two of his own Irish uilleann pipes to perform on, since the museum’s set is not in working order. And uilleann pipes are finicky instruments.

The gathered audience was treated to some beautiful playing — an air, a set of jigs, a set of reels — plus some really interesting conversation about the history of the uilleann pipes, renowned makers both historical and living, and the technical challenges of playing, which include manipulating a chanter, drones, and regulators, in addition to the bellows, which are filled by pumping one’s elbow. (Uilleann is the Irish Gaelic word for elbow.)

Darcy asked Joey to let the audience know where they might be able to hear him playing locally. Every Thursday evening, at 7:15, Joey leads an Irish music session at the Canadian American Club in Watertown. Everyone is welcome.

Model Making: Ship Models & Pipe Organs

Friday, April 5th, 2013

On Sunday afternoon, April 21st, the Lowell Folklife Series will present an intriguing program featuring three master craftsmen.  Joining us will be National Heritage Fellow and shipwright  Harold A. Burnham, noted maritime historian and ship modeler Erik Ronnberg, Jr., and Greg Bover of CB Fisk, Inc.  With hand-crafted models up on stage, they will talk about the role of model-making in the building of world class pipe organs, 60-foot wooden schooners, and historic miniatures of seafaring vessels.

For Burnham, a half-hull ship model is a design tool. Bover’s company, CB Fisk, Inc., creates scale models to ensure that each pipe organ complements the architecture that surrounds it. For Ronnberg, the full-hull ship model is a historical representation, a form of visual storytelling. All three individuals are well-known to each other, and hold each other’s skills and knowledge in high regard. Their discussion will no doubt be full of fascinating details, tricks of the trade, and little-known facts about the importance of model-making.

This event is free and open to the public. It will take place in Lowell National Historical Park’s Visitor Center theater on Sunday April 21, 2013 at 3:30 p.m. For more information, visit www.nps.gov/lowe or call 978-275-1719.

Veronica Robles & her Mariachi

Monday, March 11th, 2013

To help celebrate International Women’s Month, the Lowell Folklife Series is pleased to present Veronica Robles with her Mariachi. Known affectionately by fans as La Mera, Mera, Robles is widely recognized as the most authentic representative of Mexican music and culture in New England. 

This free concert takes place on March 23, 2013 at 7:30 pm in the Visitor Center Theater of  Lowell National Historical Park  (246 Market Street, Lowell, Massachusetts). 

Veronica Robles has Mexican music in her blood. She first learned to sing corridos and rancheros from her grandmother as she prepared traditional dishes in the family kitchen. It was in Mexico City’s Plaza Garibaldi, the cradle of mariachi music, where Veronica was introduced to the mariachi group led by El Chiquis.  She began working with his group at age 15, learning hundreds of songs and musical styles from these elder musicians. In 1992, Robles left her home country for New York City to pursue her life as a professional mariachi musician. 

Robles has made Massachusetts home since 2000, where she specializes in performing for young audiences through school assembles, residencies and dance workshops. Her television show, Orale con Verónica has been on the air since 2002. She was named an  Artist Fellowship Finalist by the Massachusetts Cultural Council in 2012.

 

 

Working Waterfront Festival: Come Celebrate America’s Oldest Industry

Tuesday, September 21st, 2010

Great weather and great programming! We suggest heading down to New Bedford this weekend for the 7th annual Working Waterfront Festival. This year’s theme is All in One Boat: the Cultural Mosaic of New England’s Working Ports

In addition to the focus on cultural diversisty, the festival programming speaks to the common challenges facing fishing communities around the globe, especially in light of recent changes in fisheries management. Come enjoy live maritime and ethnic music, listen to tales from Cape Verdean Longshoremen, try your hand at mending a fishing net, watch a coast guard rescue demonstration, walk the decks of a scalloper, eat fresh seafood, and immerse yourself in an insider’s view of the local industry that brings seafood from the ocean to your plate.

We are happy to see that retired fisherman, Marco Randazzo, who we met years ago in Gloucester, will be demonstrating his knot tying and rope sculptures on Sunday.

Marco Randazzo with some his rope sculptures. Photo by Scott Alarik, 2000.

Marco Randazzo with some his rope sculptures. Photo by Scott Alarik, 2000.

Traditional Artists win MCC Fellowships

Thursday, January 28th, 2010

At first glance, this year’s two fellowships in the traditional arts seem a study in contrasts. One represents an age-old Yankee craft; the other, an ancient West African musical tradition.  Yet wooden boat builder Harold A. Burnham and Malian balaphon player Balla Kouyaté share something in common. Each individual is carrying on a traditional art form passed on through his own family lineage. Harold A. Burnham’s boat building ancestors arrived in Essex, Massachusetts nearly 400 years ago. Balla Kouyaté, who came to the United States just a decade ago, was born into a musical family whose artistic lineage dates back 800 years. And their traditions are stronger for it.

In addition to performing in concert halls and clubs, Balla is ever present playing at weddings, baptisms, and other domestic ceremonies within the West African immigrant communities of Boston, New York City, and beyond. As for Harold Burnham, he has essentially revived a once dormant shipbuilding technique, and in doing so, has reconnected a town to its own shipbuilding heritage. More than a revivalist serving a small market of weathy buyers who romanticize the past, he is an innovative craftsman working fully within the local wooden boatbuilding tradition.

The MCC has also granted finalist awards in the traditional arts to the following individuals:

Sunanda Sahay specializes in a style of folk painting originating in the Madhubani region of North India.

Sophia Bilides is a master performer of Smyneika, a heartfelt and highly ornamented singing style of Greek Asia Minor heritage.

Ivelisse Pabon de Landron makes traditional Puerto Rican black dolls as a way of honoring her ancestors — Puerto Rican women of African descent and their contribution to cultural history.

Sridevi Ajai Thirumalai is an acclaimed Bharathanatyam dancer and founder of the Natyamani School of Dance.

The next deadline for Artist Fellowships in the Traditional Arts will be Fall 2011.

Fishermen and Farmers Find Common Ground at Working Waterfront Festival

Thursday, September 24th, 2009

Great weather and great programming! We suggest heading down to New Bedford this weekend for the Working Waterfront Festival. If you haven’t guessed, this year’s theme is surf and turf. In promoting the festival, organizers point out that “Fishermen and farmers share a deep knowledge of, reverence for and dependence upon the natural world. Both groups pass traditional skills and knowledge from one generation to the next, often incorporating new technologies alongside traditional practices. And both communities face many of the same economic, environmental and political challenges.”

In addition to live maritime and ethnic music, there will be an open air market featuring local produce and fresh seafood and cooking demonstrations, occupational demonstrations of fishing and farming skills, tours of fishing boats, author readings, and kid’s activities.

“Old-school” visitor comments arrive in the mail

Tuesday, August 18th, 2009

A big box of photocopied comment cards arrived in the mail today. Visitors to Keepers of Tradition: Art and Folk Heritage in Massachusetts took the time to scribble down their reactions on printed comment cards. From time to time, we will share them with you here.

A 38-year-old woman from Belmont, MA writes: “I was so impressed by the intricate design and pattern of the baskets. It also reminds me of how ‘green’ cultures were that used these beautiful baskets in farming — reusing natural materials (no ugly plastic bags!)”

One of the cards asked: If you could learn from one of these keepers of tradtition, who would it be? Why? A 64-year-old man from Woodstock, CT answered: “Rob Napier, Newburyport. The man is good and I like the choice of the working boat. It’s the working men laboring unhseen that make the trade great.” And a 12-year-old girl from Canton, MA answered: “The art of tap dancing because it is a way of dancing and making music.”

A 47-year old woman from Shrewsbury wrote: “We enjoyed the entire exhibit, but my son especially enjoyed seeing the Cambodian crafts and dance, as he was adopted in Cambodia and is proud of his cultural heritage.”

And an unidentified person answered the question, Has this exhibition changed your idea of what folk art is? “Yes. I always thought it was boring, but it isn’t.”


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