Learning to Document Maritime Traditions:

The 4-H FOLKPATTERNS Maritime Folklife Workshop

Thirty-seven participants in the 4-H FOLKPATTERNS Maritime Folklife Workshop gathered in Port Austin in October 1995 to document maritime traditions in Michigan's Thumb. Learning by doing, they measured a boat in a boatbuilder's workshop, photographed an ice fishing luremaker as he welded "spoons" in his basement, and helped build a duck blind with duck hunters. They visited artists and tradition-bearers throughout the shoreline communities of Sebewaing, Caseville, Bay Port, Port Austin, Grindstone City, and Harbor Beach. They had fun, worked hard, ate some great fish, and learned a lot about how to identify maritime traditions in their own communities.

Sponsored by Michigan 4-H Youth Programs and the Michigan State University Museum, the three-day workshop involved adult volunteer leaders, 4-H youth, and area teachers, as well as folklorists, an MSU Extension fisheries biologist, the Huron County 4-H Extension agent, and community tradition-bearers. Some leaders and teachers were from the Thumb, hoping to learn more about their local traditional culture; others were hoping to apply what they learned in their own communities. Instructors for the workshop were: Yvonne Lockwood, Extension folklife specialist and curator of folklife, MSU Museum; Hawk Tolson, research associate with MSU's Center for Maritime and Underwater Resource Management; Michael Chiarappa, maritime folklorist and historian, Western Michigan University; Nancy Nusz, folk arts coordinator, Oregon Folk Arts Program; Dorris Akers, education curator, Michigan Maritime Museum; Shari Dann, Extension specialist with MSU's Department of Fisheries and Wildlife; and myself.

As coordinator for the workshop, I worked with the 4-H FOLKPATTERNS State Programming Committee, a group of dedicated 4-H volunteers and Huron County 4-H Youth Agent Bob Johnson. We made preliminary phone calls and visits to find local artists and traditions suitable for the workshop. After initial interviews, we invited several to participate; the tradition-bearers agreed to share their traditions at the workshop and be more fully interviewed by workshop participants. Rather than a classroom or conference setting, we chose the Port Austin Conservation Club as our meeting place. Participants learned interview techniques and about the ecology and fisheries of Saginaw Bay and the Great Lakes. The rest of the workshop took place "on location" in the homes and workplaces of tradition-bearers. Participants worked in teams, each led by a folklorist, on the topics of boatbuilding, recreational fishing, commercial fishing, foodways, knot tying, and waterfowling. Each team divided up the tasks involved in documenting folklife: some took photographs, some videotaped, others ran the cassette tape recorders, while others asked interview questions.

The Boatbuilding Team interviewed the builders of the commercial fish tug, Osprey, owned by the Bay Port Fish Company in Bay Port. Tod Williams, skipper of the Osprey , and Gary Gardner, a metal fabricator and boat builder at Weld-All Welding, Elkton, provided the boatbuilding team with an account of how they collaborated with Fred Brown, a Bay Port traditional boat builder, to build the Osprey. The group toured and photographed the vessel, and learned about trap net fishing from Randy Carter, commercial fisher and mechanic. Williams pointed out some of the fishing grounds in Saginaw Bay the crew uses. Also in Bay Port, boat builder Fred Brown opened his home workshop to the team. They interviewed and videotaped Brown about his lifelong hobby of making metal boats. He demonstrated the use of steel cutting and bending machines he created. They team also learned some ways to document a boat, such as by taking the lines off a hull.

The Knot Tying Team interviewed James Chambers, a Coast Guard auxiliarist from Cass City, and Steve Cantrell and Jeremy Goolsby, personnel at the Harbor Beach Coast Guard Station, about the traditional uses of knots and splices in their maritime profession. They learned how to tie some knots, spliced line, toured a boatswain's locker where supplies for knot tying are kept, and interviewed the crew about other Coast Guard customs and traditions, such as the blowing of a boatswain's whistle.

The Recreational Fishing team documented Mark Guster about the small metal ice fishing lures he makes from scraps of metal, Dale Reilly about the wooden ice fishing lures he carves and paints, and Captain George Knight about the nautical experience required to run a charter fishing business. Their interviews brought them from Guster's Caseville basement workshop to Reilly's party store in Port Austin, to Knight's charter boat, the Tenpin, which he kept docked in a Grindstone City marina past the regular season just for the team to experience.

Sportsmen Bill Jimkoski, Larry Reinke, and Mike Mayes, all of Port Austin, demonstrated the techniques of building a duck blind and the use of a camouflaged boat for the Waterfowling Team. While some of this could take place on the grounds of the Port Austin Conservation Club, the Waterfowling Team also followed the duck hunters out to their blind set up in a nearby swamp. There the hunters took apart their blind, already set up for the hunting season, and reassembled it for the purposes of documenting the process on videotape. The team also interviewed Sebewaing duck decoy carver and duck hunter Don Martin.

Commercial Fishing Team members spent much of the day at the historic Bay Port Fish Company fish docks, where they interviewed employees engaged in fish cleaning and gutting, as well as owners Tod and Forrest Williams, and former owner Henry Englehard. They toured and documented the net sheds and main house where fish are sold at retail. The team also visited Bob Jahr in Sebewaing, who carries on a tradition of carving wooden netmaking needles like the ones once used in his father's commercial fishing operation.

The Englehard family of Bay Port (Henry and daughters Kathleen Englehard and Carolyn Smith), creators of Bay Port's famous fish sandwich, prepared fish recipes for the Foodways Team to taste and document, and provided fish sandwiches for all workshop participants. The Foodways Team documented the history of the sandwich and its evolution from a family tradition to a community food festival. They toured the Bay Port Fish Company fish docks and market, and observed the fish smoking operation there.

Following their day in the field, workshop participants gathered and wrote up their results in the form of a dictionary of folk terms, an artist biography, a description of the tradition they observed, a curriculum outline, or a newsletter article; they then took turns giving a presentation on what they had done. They also logged their video and audio tapes, and wrote identifying captions for each photograph they took. All materials, including some objects collected by the teams, have been accessioned in the MSU Museum's collections. A curriculum guide for teachers and 4-H leaders is forthcoming. For more information about the project, contact the MSU Museum.

Support from Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs, Michigan Humanities Council, MSU Museum, MSU Department of Fisheries and Wildlife, Michigan 4-H Foundation, MSU Extension, Huron County 4-H Council, and Tuscola County 4-H Council, made the workshop possible.

By LuAnne Gaykowski Kozma.

Originally published in another version in 1998 Michigan Folklife Annual. Edited by Yvonne R. Lockwood and Marsha MacDowell. East Lansing, Mich.: Michigan State University Museum, pp. 48-49.

© Board of Trustees, Michigan State University.