Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Keeping it Real

The schooner Lavengro hauled out in our boat yard.
When Jeff and I considered the type of model upon which to base his new business Kingfisher Craftsmen, we took several factors into consideration. Foremost was how to provide the much needed maritime services in this region and still keep true to our lifestyle goal. We learned the hard way from my former Seattle business, just how quickly a promising venture can consume one's family life and quality time and we have no interest in repeating our past mistakes. (Yes, success can actually be a real pain in the ass sometimes).

And the solution? We decided we needed to make it a job that will combine what we both love to do with what we are very good at doing and then make sure we include our family and our friends in the big adventure. So, this is what we've set out to accomplish.

Kingfisher Craftsmen just took possession of our new boatshop located within the Port of Bellingham's Fairhaven marine industrial complex. We have a large area for the carpentry and woodworking projects as well as space allocated for fabrication and welding. There is a big loft above to lay out canvas and paint projects as well as a reception area and a design studio/office. Juliet even has her own studio in which to write and paint. Now we can all be together and combine our various specialties. It's a really exciting prospect.

The good news is that there are a large number of wooden boats in Bellingham and a growing number of owners who'd prefer to keep them up here rather than trek south for shipwrights. We're pleased to discover that we've landed in a niche market with a distinct need--one we're more than happy to fill.

In the past decade both Jeff and I have been fortunate enough to have worked with and learned from many of the old masters in the traditional maritime trades. The experiences that we've gained from various shipwrights, riggers and mariners has been invaluable and we're applying it to the skills we've already amassed in our own respective careers as trades-people in the contracting, fabricating and painting trades. A combined 60+ years of professional experience is pretty impressive if I do say so myself.

It's a true asset to possess the skills we gained from our theatrical backgrounds. Jeff's focus as a theatrical rigger and stage carpenter has been hugely beneficial--especially when it came to projects like re-masting the Zodiac. He re-engineered the rigging diagrams from the old masts and was able to piece together the incomplete schematics as well as the (quite literally), missing chunks of mast; in the end arriving at a new rig and mast that fit perfectly with the existing rig components.  His current projects have consisted of odd shapes and complex joinery--all of which he routinely dealt with when building sets onstage and designing solutions for unique situations.

I started my painting career before I finished high school and have been an on-again-off-again professional scenic artist in theater and motion picture production since the mid-eighties. I've since transitioned to marine painting and brightwork jobs and found I really enjoy the process of bringing dull wood back to life. It also allows me to work with Jeff again--just like in our theater days from way back. My degree as a theatrical designer has been a big help in a wide variety of jobs, not the least of which has been on our own boats.

As we take on more marine related projects, we're adding some of our talented friends to the pool of craftsmen. Metal fabrication, welding and foundry work are a few of the skills we can now add to the list of trades offered. I'm really looking forward to the new apprentices and interns that are coming onboard (so to speak) this summer and fall. It will be a thrill to help pass on some of these traditional skills to new tradesmen.

It is no secret that the corkers, marlinspike seamen and master shipwrights of the last generation are diminishing. Boats are increasingly made from materials such as fiberglass, steel and aluminum. These craftsmen who specialize in wood are becoming harder to find. Nevertheless, their skills are still necessary and their old tricks and knowledge cannot be allowed to disappear. The same was true decades ago in theater as the older scenics retired; artists who painted vast canvases on shop floors with their brushes affixed to bamboo sticks, their pigments mixed with animal glue and the renderings gridded out to scale on cardboard. Nowadays much of what is created for theater productions is simply scanned from a computerized design and digitally printed onto a canvas. Many of the traditional skills are lost for good.

Again, I was lucky to have met and learned from a couple of the old (and I mean old) masters. My father was a designer and student of Arnold Gillette--he wrote the book, literally wrote the book on scenecraft. He taught me some tricks for painting and drawing once when visiting our home. He gave me a rendering of one of his designs shortly before his death. I treasure that rendering (and my father covets it still).

As we launch this new enterprise, I am keen on taking the best of what I've learned from running my own business and making sure not to repeat the worst of what we learned the hard way. I want to combine the tricks and skills from the wisdom of our predecessors and blend them with the innovations and ideas of those who are coming into the workplace. Most of all I want to keep learning and creating. The fact that we can do it with each other and with our friends, just makes it all the more exciting.

Kingfisher Craftsmen

                                      ~  Chris


  1. Congratulations on your new Venture, may she be a prosperous one for you all! ~ Mark

  2. A perfect job is the one that doe not seem like a job but more of a fun activity that you want to do daily. I hope you find success in whatever job you do.