Water Closet for January 15, 2016
[pullquote]”One of the most common aspects of the boat shops I’ve visited over all these years doing this magazine was the clutter amidst which the builders worked.”[/pullquote]Beauty can arise from clutter. A couple old Closeteers visited Harold Burnham’s shipyard in Essex several years ago, as he, a 15th generation Burnham shipbuilder, and helpers were finishing up a lovely pinky schooner named Ardelle. The acre yard and interior shop were littered with logs, planks, tools, wires, patterns, clamps, scraps of white oak, chips, sawdust, trunnels, etc., etc. Mr. Burnham welcomed us when he learned of our interest in his ships and invited us to explore at will, even to climb the ladders and staging around the almost completed hull. Out of seeming chaos at the site had previously come the beautiful schooners Thomas B. Lannon and Fame by Harold and before them three centuries of fishing vessels for the Gloucester fleets. Here in Middleton, a source of pride to those who know Middleton’s Carl Close, are the inventions and works of art coming out of his filled-from-floor-to-ceiling small shop, outdoor saw mill, and forge building mentioned in past Water Closet essays. Last week we were again reminded of functional beauty arising from clutter upon reading commentary in the latest issue of “Messing About in Boats” (MAIB) by magazine editor-owner Bob Hicks of Wenham. A visit by him to Lowell’s Boat Shop, a venerable Mecca for one old Stream Teamer, who once with students built dories, had Hicks marveling at the clutter he found there. He has kindly permitted us to repeat his piece here. Such shops may seem cluttered to visitors but not to the craftsmen and artists who know the place and purpose for each piece or are just keeping them around for later use. MST.
COMMENTARY . . . (January 16, 2016 issue of MAIB) by Bob Hicks, Editor
The November meeting of our local Traditional Small Craft Association Chapter was a “field trip” to Lowell’s Boat Shop in Amesbury Massachusetts. When friend, Capt Gnat, suggested I might like to go along on the trip, I agreed. It had been maybe a quarter century since I last dropped by this historic site. Billed as the “longest continuous boat building shop in the USA,” Lowells claims to have been established by one Simeon Lowell in 1790 on the banks of the Merrimack River. The last of the Lowells sold out in the 1970s when building small traditional wooden boats proved to be financially unrewarding. When I first discovered it in the early 1980s, while pursuing my new found interest in small wooden boats, it was owned and operated by Jim Odell, who had always wanted to own a wooden boat shop. He was building small wooden rowing and sailing boats indigenous to the areas in what appeared to me a hobby business.
In the 30 or so years since then, Jim had gotten out and his son George had carried on when the shop became affiliated with the nearby Newburyport Custom House Maritime Museum, operating as a “working museum.” Later on the shop was recognized as a National Historic Landmark and working museum dedicated to preserving and perpetuating the art and craft of wooden boatbuilding, continuing to build our full line of dories and skiffs or oar, sail or power. (www.lowellsboatshop.com)
So this is where we headed that evening and all of this introduction is by way of leading into my main topic for this commentary, clutter. Yep, clutter. One of the most common aspects of the boat shops I’ve visited over all these years doing this magazine was the clutter amidst which the builders worked. My own shops, the original 12’ by 24’ one in the barn set up in 1956 (when Jane and I bought our place from my parents) in which to work on my motor cycles, and the 12’ x 24’ boat shop annex added on in 1978 to house my entry into wooden boats, have always been cluttered, and as you might envision, now a half a century plus later, the clutter has assumed what I consider historic proportions.
But this last is as nothing compared to Lowells. I recalled from my visit 30 years ago that it had acquired truly historic clutter, going back 200 years. The building is the typical New England wooden frame structure with additions added on over the years without benefit of any architectural input. The most original part dates back to the early 1800s as I recall and again with typical Yankee frugality, it has no frills at all, no interior wall sheathing, rows of windows looking out over the river rattling in the winds, lights, wiring, structural bracing, shelving, etc, added as the years rolled by when and where needed, no interior paint of any sort, just bare boards. And full of stuff. Clutter. I loved it.
The shop has three stories. The street level is where the main boat building goes on. Upstairs is where all the piece parts of the original main project, fishing dories for the Gloucester fishing fleet, were cut out and then dropped down through a trap door to the main floor. Here the boats were built and then eased out through a side door and lowered to the ground down closer to the river level. The boats were then moved inside a basement level for painting and fitting out.
A steep set of narrow stairs leads down to this basement from the main floor with a small sign indicating it is now the “Museum.” Befitting this role, the rather cramped basement space is set up with several old boats from the earlier 1900s, a demo dory under construction, some old documents under glass and old photos and drawings lining the walls. These are surrounded by an incredible clutter of other artifacts leaned against the walls and heaped on the floor and in some of the boats, severely limiting walkabout space for visitors. Much of the clutter was really old stuff from way back, like hundreds of pattern pieces hanging from the beams. The wall near the door to the river was bearded with paint beaten from brushes for ever so many years, a couple inches thick.
But the floor near the door has the most enduring form of clutter. At first it looked like some sort of enduring mottled linoleum, but it proved to be paint, up to a 2” layer laid down over 200 years or more like some sort of lava flow. A larger chunk has been broken off to serve as an artifact, sort of an archeological cross section. Way down near the bottom was a pinkish layer. When it had hit the floor the dories were being painted pink, white lead paint doctored with red brick dust from the nearby brick works.
Well this all demonstrated clearly to me that clutter is a long honored tradition in boat shops and those of us who continue to practice this form of workplace management are carrying the flag into the future.
WATER RESOURCE AND CONSERVATION INFORMATION
FOR MIDDLETON, BOXFORD AND TOPSFIELD
|Precipitation Data* for Month of:||Oct||Nov||Dec||Jan|
|30 Year Normal (1981 – 2010) Inches||4.40||4.55||4.12||3.40|
|2015/2016 Central Watershed Actual||3.11||2.49||4.72||2.3**as of Jan 11|
Ipswich R. Flow Rate (S. Middleton USGS Gage) in Cubic Feet/ Second (CFS):
For Jan 11, 2016 Normal . . . 48 CFS Current Rate . . . 127 CFS *Danvers Water Filtration Plant, Lake Street, Middleton is the source for actual precipitation data thru Dec..
**Middleton Stream Team is source of actual precipitation data for Jan.
Normals data is from the National Climatic Data Center.
THE WATER CLOSET is provided by the Middleton Stream Team: www.middletonstreamteam.org or <MSTMiddletonMA@gmail.com> or (978) 777-4584