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Michigan Heritage Awards

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Photo of Herman Chapman with boat blueprints
Herman Chapman points to blueprints
for a model boat.
Photo by LuAnne Kozma

Photo of Herman Chapman shows a block of wood for a model boat
Herman Chapman shows a block of woodfrom which he will make a model boat.
Photo by LuAnne Kozma

Photo of Herman Chapman with a model boat
Herman Chapman in his workshop
displaying one of his models.
Photo by LuAnne Kozma

Photo of Herman Chapman with a model boat in his workshop
Herman Chapman in his workshop.
Photo by LuAnne Kozma

Herman Chapman
2006 awardee, St. Clair Shores (Macomb County), Model Boat Builder

Herman Chapman has been “scratch building” exquisite replica models of Great Lakes boats since the 1980s. While his knowledge, dedication to, and artistry of model boat building is recognized throughout the Great Lakes region, he is perhaps best known for his models of Great Lakes lightships on display at the Huron Lightship Museum in Port Huron and other models at the Dossin Great Lakes Museum in Detroit. He hopes to make a complete collection of all 27 lightships that served on the Great Lakes; to date he has made 16.

A third-generation wood worker and former industrial electrician, Chapman learned his skills in woodworking from his father, who worked on a Great Lakes ore carrier. Chapman works in his St. Clair Shores basement workshop where he also keeps a wide assortment of materials, tools, a collection of models he’s made—including the PALMER, DETROIT EDISON, SOUTH AMERICAN, and the fireboat JOHN KENDALL—and plans for his next project. “The research is fun,” says Chapman, who talks with people who served aboard the vessel, takes and collects numerous photographs of every angle of the boat, and does historical research before he begins making a model.

His first foray into modeling was a kit boat, operated by radio control, that he made with his son. Every boat since he has made from scratch. Starting with a block of basswood, Chapman carves out the hull to exact specifications from blueprints he scales down to a 1/8th inch-to-one-foot scale. Other parts are meticulously created from wood, wire, metal, plastic, string and other materials. With a goal of making the boat as true to what it looked like at a particular point in time, Chapman attends to the smallest of details. What makes it all worthwhile, according to Chapman, is the reaction the models draw from people who know the ships. When they view his models they remember their time spent working aboard the vessel, and discover distinctive features Chapman carefully included in his models.

Herman Chapman is honored with the Michigan Heritage Award for his mastery of the traditional art of model boat building, his excellent craftsmanship, and his dedication to Great Lakes maritime heritage.

--LuAnne Kozma, fieldworker

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