Let the boat building commence! An adventure from Santa Fe, NM to Flagstaff, AZ to the San Juan River
.In the spring of 2016 I was awarded a residency at the Santa Fe Art Institute during it's Water Right's themed residency period. My proposal? To carve, print and build a boat that would ultimately be used as an actual vessel for floating on water, preferably rivers.
Had I ever built a boat before? Had I ever really built anything out of wood? Not really. But I determined that somehow this was actually a good idea anyways so I called up master boat builder and my friend, Brad Dimock, who runs Fretwater Boatworks, for some help at making this crazy proposition come true.
He was intrigued and although I'm sure he had some doubts about my ability and sanity (I sure did) he nonetheless welcomed me into his shop for the initial construction for the side panels of a MacKenzie drift boat, one of the simpler, more straightforward river craft he makes in his shop. We spent a long day scarfing marine grade plywood and cutting two 16' pieces that I strapped to the top of my car and drove to Santa Fe for the months of January and February to carve and print for the initial phase of the project.
When I got to Santa Fe and actually was able to take in the enormous amount of wood I had to cover with carving, there were several considerations which ended up guiding my journey through 32 feet of plywood. Because a McKenzie drift boat is not a decked boat, I decided I wanted to focus my imagery on a river I could actually take the boat down. Having begun my guiding career on the San Juan River, which is relatively shallow and rocky (ideal for this type of boat) I decided that would be watershed my imagery was focused on. I also chose the San Juan because it is the southern border of the new and controversial Bears Ears National Monument, I place I firmly believe needs to be protected as such and a place in need of advocacy and awareness as it is on the chopping block by the Trump Administration and Utah state legislators.
And so the carving began. The San Juan Mountains create the bow (where the San Juan River Begins) and as each side moves toward the stern, I tried to included both natural and human made elements affecting the river today. The edge of Cedar Mesa (part of Bears Ears National Monument) drains in the San Juan Watershed. Navajo Dam and reservoir, control the flow of the San Juan from New Mexico to Lake Powell. Uranium mining caps in multiple locations affect river and humans alike. Slowly I chiseled out the stories of the San Juan. After seven weeks of carving I had completed the largest woodcut I had ever made and was ready to print.
My partner Brian met me in Santa Fe and we spent the week printing the images I had carved into the hull. With my residency time up, we piled everything back into the car and drove it back to Flagstaff to be stored until there was time to make the rest of the pieces to turn it into a boat.
Throughout the summer whenever I was in town for a river trip, I would head over the Brad's shop and hammer out some more pieces. By this October, we were ready turn turn the giant pile of sticks I had made into something that floated.
And so we did. We started at noon and had finished by midnight-- a 12 hour assembly and a record for Fretwater Boatworks with 4-5 people working at a preposterous pace and giggling all the while. As soon a we attached the bow post to the hulls and began to place the ribs into the boat, the curves made by the shape of the boat enhanced the imagery to a degree I never could have imagined. Each image becomes singular and plural as they fade in and out of sight depending on your perspective as a viewer. The bow becomes a mountain in and of itself, in concert with the sweep of the shape it creates. After sitting in it for a good two hours post-completion, I am just beginning to imagine the possibilities it holds going forward.
Stay tuned for her upcoming adventures including her maiden voyage, naming, and possible second edition of prints. Check out Fretwater Boatworks blog post for some sweet time lapses of construction here