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Michigan Heritage Awards

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Paul Wilson
2016 awardee, Hessel (Mackinac County), Traditional boat builder

Paul Wilson (b. 1938) has been building wooden boats since he was fifteen and has taught full-scale and model boatbuilding for many years. He was a member of the leadership team that researched, developed, fundraised, and created the Great Lakes Boat Building School in Cedarville, Michigan. Paul taught several early classes at this school and served as board president for its first four years of existence (2005-2009). Paul was also an early curator/docent at the Les Cheneaux Maritime Museum in Cedarville, Michigan, and developed and constructed the museum’s boatbuilding program. Beyond existing as a mere living demonstration of what was once a necessary skill, this museum program facilitates mutually enriching relationships among current boat builders. The building in which the program operates is a place where novice and intermediate boat builders share knowledge, ask questions, and help each other. Program participants create small boats for auction every summer, and are engaged in developing a community rowing program. They have also networked with staff of maritime museums in Alpena, Michigan and Marinette, Wisconsin, to orchestrate museum-sponsored rowing teams, build-it-and-row-it events, and team rowing tournaments between the museums and other clubs. The Les Cheneaux Rowing Club uses the facilities at the Great Lakes Boat Building School, also in Cedarville, in no small part due to Paul’s labor and expertise.

Paul is also an internationally acclaimed model boat builder something that he has more time for now since he retired from is position as a mathematics professor at Lake Superior State University. He has constructed scale models of actual, historic boats exhibiting key aspects of local, vernacular design. Not only are these models on display in the Les Cheneaux Maritime Museum, complete with drawn plans for their reproduction, but each model corresponds with an existing full-size replica, some of which are on display and some of which are still in use. These include lapstrake rowing skiffs, Mackinaw boats, and another gaff-rigged sloop. In 2015, he was awarded a gold medal in the Master category and a gold medal for “Best in Show” at the annual convention of the Nautical Research Guild. His model of a wood and canvas Penobscot canoe has graced the cover of their academic publication, The Nautical Research Journal.

For his dedication to the teaching and dissemination of maritime lore, his leadership within the boat building community, and his skill in the art of boat building, Paul Wilson is awarded the 2016 Michigan Heritage Award.

Compiled by Nick Schaedig with MTAP Staff, 2016

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