November 20, 2018

FOLK/Demos From boat building to basket making, today’s talented hands keep generations-old traditions alive

Much of Maine’s mystique lies along its striking rockbound coast and pristine lakes and rivers, where tourists flock every summer. Many of these tiny, rustic communities boast highly skilled and creative residents. Some of the talent is reflected in Maine’s century-old boat-building industry. Maine boat builders have a global reputation for fine craftsmanship and design, whether it’s a canvas canoe or a wooden Friendship sloop. That is why this year’s festival is showcasing some of the Pine Tree State’s best wooden-boat builders, who will demonstrate and talk about their craft and culture.

Boat building

Rollin Thurlow Northwoods Canoe Co.

Atkinson, Maine

Rollin Thurlow has built wooden canoes since graduating from Maine Maritime Academy in Castine and fulfilling service in the U.S. Navy. He is in constant demand as a lecturer and instructor. He has taught classes at the WoodenBoat School in Brooklin, Maine; Buffalo State College, Buffalo, N.Y.; Maine Maritime Museum, Bath, Maine; Wooden Canoe Heritage Association, Paul Smiths, N.Y.; and at the Wilderness Workshop, Toronto, Ontario. He is co-author of the book “The Wood & Canvas Canoe.” He also has produced two videos, “Building the Atkinson Traveler” and “Steam Bending for Woodworkers.” Thurlow has built canoes for more than 25 years, specializing in wood and canvas construction.

Wade Dow

Brooklin, Maine

Wade Dow lobstered and scalloped for a living before building boats full time in his Brooklin shop. A change in boat-building technology provided an opportunity. Dow had noticed many lobstermen prefered fiberglass to wooden-hulled boats and began constructing lobster boats. By the mid-1980s, sensing a new market might be emerging, he began crafting small sailboats. He has built 70 sailboats since 1985. He is now at work on a 24-foot sailboat. Dow has worked for one of Maine’s premier wooden-boat builders, Arno Day. Dow’s boats can be seen all along the East Coast and as far away as Juneau, Alaska, with the majority being sold in Maine. As a boat builder-musician, Dow will play some tunes with fiddler Ralph Stanley and Maine bluegrass musicians Luanna and Royce Perkins at the 66th National Folk Festival.

Eric Dow and Ariel Dow

Brooklin, Maine

Eric Dow began building boats right out of high school. He honed his skills at the former Washington County Vocational Technical Institute in Lubec, Maine. Dow was a lobsterman throughout his teens and early 20s with his father. His first boat was a 20-foot lobster boat. At 21, he received his first commission to build a Friendship sloop. Since then, his boat-building knowledge has led to many opportunities. He has produced boat-building kits and taught model-making at WoodenBoat School in Brooklin. He also has written how-to-build articles for WoodenBoat magazine. Dow has built boats for people as far away as Florida, California and Japan. At present, he is working on a 16-foot Haven sailboat. At the 66th National Folk Festival, Dow’s daughter, Ariel will help him build a nutshell pram designed by the late Brooklin boat builder Joel White.

Ralph Stanley

National Heritage Fellow

Southwest Harbor, Maine

From a family with a long, seafaring tradition, Ralph Stanley grew up in Southwest Harbor where he became interested in boat building and in 1951, completed his first boat. The considerable skills involved in boat design and construction require hours of patient apprenticeship and application. Stanley sticks to traditional materials for his sloop designs, using cedar for planking and oak for the keel and frame. He currently owns Ralph W. Stanley Inc. Boats in Southwest Harbor. He is a 1999 recipient of a National Heritage Award from the National Endowment for the Arts for his 50-year commitment to keeping alive the wooden boat-building tradition in Maine. His sons, Richard and Edward, also practice their father’s craft and are helping to continue the tradition into the 21st century. Ralph Stanley has written about boat building in Maine in “Tales of a Maine Boatbuilder,” co-written with Craig Milner and published by Down East Books (2004). He will moor his boat, Seven Sisters, in the Penobscot River during the festival.

The Apprenticeshop of the Atlantic Challenge

Rockland, Maine

Located in Maine’s Penobscot Bay, the Apprenticeshop is one of the oldest and finest traditional boat-building schools in the United States. For more than 30 years, the school has used boat building and seamanship as tools to empower youth and adults to explore themselves and their maritime history. The programs are based on the educational philosophy that learning by doing promotes self-discovery and that education should encourage both thought and action. The Apprenticeshop also is home to the Community Sailing Program. For more information, call (207) 594-1800 or visit

Jamie and Joseph Lowell

Yarmouth, Maine

Jamie and Joseph Lowell build lobster boat-style hulls for pleasure and commercial use. The brothers come from a great boat-building tradition, which began more than a century ago by their great-grandfather Will “Pappy” Frost. Over the years, family members have plied their trade from Beals Island to Nova Scotia to Massachusetts to Rhode Island. The Lowell brothers run Even Keel Marine, a custom boatyard, on the Cousins River in Yarmouth, Maine. They design new boats as well as build fiberglass, wood, or cold-molded craft, finish out kit boats, and do repairs and storage.

Hugh Lane

Rockport, Maine

Hugh Lane acquired an appreciation for marlinespike skills by being part of crews on sailing vessels. He has served on ships in the capacity of boatswain’s mate, and as captain and rigger on a square-rigged sailing ship. Lane now spends his time crafting sea chests, “ditty” bags, rigging tools, and demonstrating marlinespike skills in schools, marine events, and other venues. These traditional skills may seem anachronistic in the digital age, but are versatile and can be used to construct furniture, move heavy loads and make and repair canvas products such as boat bags.

Newman B. Gee

St. Albans, Maine

Newman B. Gee and his wife bought a 250-acre farm in 1981. He started harvesting a 10-acre hackmatack (tamarack) stand on the wood lot. The couple later learned hackmatack was used as “knees,” which are crooked pieces of timber used to connect a ship’s beams with the sides.

Hackmatack knees come from the tree root and are harvested the same way they were 150 years ago. The stump is cut 4 feet from the ground, then dug by hand and milled to shape the knee. Knees also are used in the construction of barns, furniture, boathouses and warehouses.

Newman now travels to Aroostook County to harvest knees in the fall. He has been a knee logger for 18 years and a certified logging professional for three years.

Bill Shamel

Shamel Boat & Canoe Works

Grand Lake Stream, Maine

Bill Shamel is a native Texan who arrived in Maine in 1966 to begin a 26-year Coast Guard career. He began constructing canoes in 1968 when he married the daughter of one of Maine’s legendary canoe builders, the late Lawrence “Pop” Moore. Under Moore’s mentorship, Shamel acquired the skills for building and repairing wooden canoes. Moore eventually turned the business over to his son-in-law. Shamel builds “Grand Lakers” based on his father-in-law’s original mold built by Moore’s mentor, Joe Sprague, in 1925. Since that time, more than 800 canoes have been made from these molds. Shamel builds between five and 10 canoes a year and also repairs and restores wooden crafts. Shamel recently rebuilt a Grand Laker built by Pop Moore in 1928. The craft did not have a single broken rib, and the original rails, deck piece, stern, thwarts and seat were intact, a testament to the durability of a cedar and canvas canoe.

Maurice Belanger

Oquossoc, Maine

Maurice Belanger restores the 17-foot cedar and oak Rangeley boats that ply the lakes of Maine’s western mountains. Born in Caribou, Maine, in 1937, and raised in the western Maine town of Bingham, Belanger grew up loving the outdoors. A frequent visitor to logging camps while trapping for beaver, he also worked on the Stoney Brook Pond river drive in 1954 and on the Wyman Lake-Kennebec River drives from 1954 to 1956. With his wife, Louise, he moved to the Rangeley area in 1962 as a forestry patrolman for the Maine Forest Service. Later, the Belangers managed a set of private camps, where he guided with Rangeley boats. When he became superintendent of the Oquossoc Angling Association in 1989, he put his carpentry skills to work. Over the years, he has restored at least 30 Rangeley boats and repaired countless others.


Marty Siebert

Center Harbor Sails

Brooklin, Maine

Founded more than 20 years ago, Center Harbor Sails handcrafts sails. The sail loft recently joined forces with Doyle Sailmakers to become Doyle Center Harbor. The company makes many kinds of sails ranging from cutting edge, offshore racing sails to colorful dinghy sails. The sailmakers also design, repair, clean and store sails.

American Indian traditional arts

For hundreds of years, the Wabanaki of Maine – as well as the Maliseet, Micmac and Penobscot people – have kept alive their heritage in the form of basketry, canoe building and other crafts. These traditional artists specialize in crafting baskets and other pieces from native material such as birch, brown ash and sweet grass. Finding these materials requires an intimate knowledge of the landscape.


Molly Neptune Parker, Janet Hold and George Hold

Passamaquoddy basket makers

Princeton, Maine

As a child, Molly Neptune Parker learned basket making from her mother and continues the tradition at her home on the shores of Lewey Lake in Indian Township. An active member of the Maine Indian Basketmakers Alliance, Molly has taught both her daughter, Janet, and grandson, George, how to make fancy baskets. This process includes not just weaving techniques but the painstaking process of preparing the ash into thin strips for weaving.

Caron Shay, Brianna and Stephen Randall

Penobscot basket makers

Old Town, Maine

Caron Shay is the daughter of renowned basket makers Lawrence Shay and Madeline Tomer Shay. Caron Shay uses only natural dyes and undyed ash to make classic curly-bowl baskets An active board member of the Maine Indian Basketmakers Alliance, Shay also has taught her two grandchildren, Brianna and Stephen, the art of fancy basket making.

Gal Fry, Gabriel Fry

Passamaquoddy basket makers

Princeton, Maine

As a child, growing up in Washington County, Gal Fry helped her parents make ash work baskets. Years later, she became interested in beadwork and fancy basket making and studied with the late Passamaquoddy basket maker Sylvia Gabriel.

Gal Fry also has passed on her knowledge to her two talented sons, Gabriel and Jeremy. Continuing his grandfather and uncle’s legacy, Gabriel Frye fashions work baskets while his brother Jeremy specializes in fancy baskets.

David Moses Bridges

Passamaquoddy birch bark canoes

Perry, Maine

David Moses Bridges, a birch bark craftsman and boat builder, is continuing the legacy from his grandfather, Sylvester Gabriel, a renowned canoe maker in the Passamaquoddy community at Sipayik. For many years, Bridges studied canoe making with Steve Cayard of Wellington, Maine.

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