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Sheldon Museum, Career Center research history of trapping boats

MIDDLEBURY — The Henry Sheldon Museum of Vermont History, in cooperation with the Patricia A. Hannaford Career Center, has an innovative research partnership taking place throughout the fall 2014 semester. Working with a grant from the Lake Champlain Basin Program, students will conduct research on the traditions of local trapping boats.
The project will be led by Vergennes resident Douglas Brooks, a noted boat builder, author and researcher, who will work with Hannaford staff introducing students to oral history research, artifact documentation and boatbuilding. Brooks recently received the coveted 2014 Rare Craft Fellowship Award, given annually by the American Craft Council in association with The Balvenie, a Scottish distillery, honoring an artist who demonstrates and contributes “to the maintenance or revival of rare craft techniques.”
The title of the project is “Trapping Boats of Lake Champlain: A Comparative Study and Survey of Cultural Artifacts in Addison County, Vermont, and Essex County, New York.” Building on previous research by Brooks, the Hannaford students will identify local trapping boats in Addison County, Vt., and Essex County, N.Y., documenting them through interviews, measurements and photographs. They will then create scale drawings of a selection of historic boats, resulting in the first published record of these craft. While replicating the trapping boats, students will draft a comprehensive “how-to” document detailing the building of these boats and providing a workbook for future research and workshops.
Through prior research Brooks learned that until the 1980s trapping was an important economic activity throughout the Lake Champlain region, essential for the livelihood of many Champlain region families. Boats were integral to trapping and many if not most of these boats, were built by the trappers themselves. The result was the development of a boat type specific to trapping the local waters, designed, refined and built by amateur craftsmen. This Hannaford project will engage students in documenting two types of these boats — in Vermont and New York — in an effort to expose the students to the interplay of environment, economics and craft that characterize the culture of Lake Champlain.
The project is a community effort and students will receive training in oral history-taking by Greg Sharrow of the Vermont Folklife Center in Middlebury, and the wide pine lumber needed to build the replica boats will be sourced from Lathrop’s Maple supply in Bristol. When the project concludes, the Sheldon will display the completed trapping boats, project photographs and research papers in a special exhibit at the museum.
For more information about this project, contact the Sheldon Museum at 388-2117.
HISTORIC LAKE CHAMPLAIN region trapping boats, like these pictured, are the focus of a new course led by renowned boat builder Douglas Brooks at the Hannaford Career Center. Photo by Douglas Brooks

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