Photo: A strip planked northwest native canoe. The boat builder, Wayne Price, with his hands on the canoe.
We were strolling alongside the parade grounds of Fort Steward, admiring the early 20th century architecture of the old residences when I noticed a red and black dugout canoe on the lawn of one of the old houses. We went over to get a closer look and saw a man on the porch working on a second canoe. I did a double take when I realized the second canoe, although of traditional shape, was not a dugout but strip planked.
I asked if we could come up to see the canoe and he smiled and said certainly.
The canoe seemed to be just asking us to touch it. We ran our hands over the smooth hull. I marveled that I couldn't feel the seams between the planks.
The boat builder was Wayne Price, a Tlingit master carver (Silver Cloud Art Center)
. He makes canoes for natives to take on group paddles, he told us. "I ask if they want to go out get wet, freeze, and paddle to exhaustion and everyone says, 'YES!'"
Wayne told us that he had carved eight dugouts, including the one on the lawn.
"If you don't improve a traditional art," he told us, "it dies."
I remembered reading that somewhere else but couldn't remember where until Wayne mentioned the current native art show at the Seattle Art Museum. I had seen it and remembered that in addition to the many old and traditional examples of native art, the show had also included newer art based on the traditional but made unique and new by the artists.
Wayne told us that by making the canoe out of strip planks of spruce instead of carving it from a cedar, it was lighter (200 pounds instead of 400) and would be faster. He was taking canoe making to the next level. What struck me is that he was doing so only after immersing himself in the traditional methods by first carving eight canoes in the traditional method.