“The things we’re anxious to see restored are craftsmanship, human energy, a concern with the quality of whatever is being done, and the sort of long-range thinking that involves people in pride-creating endeavors.” – Lance Lee
Traditional Boat Building School in Maine–A Piece of Maritime History
The Apprenticeshop is one of the oldest traditional boat building schools in the country. Begun in 1972 within the complex of The Maine Maritime Museum in Bath and founded by Lance Lee, the Shop was inspired by the philosophy of Kurt Hahn—who believed that education should encourage both thought and action, not one or the other, but both at once. Lee believed that practicing resourcefulness and learning through boatbuilding—a medium that requires decisions, care, patience, forethought and time is as important as learning boatbuilding.
This traditional boat building school began in Bath, Maine with eight apprentices and a master builder—engaged in the proving of a radical proposition: that in America in the 1970’s young people would be eager to learn a demanding trade abandoned by most of its practitioners a half century earlier. And that in pursuit of this knowledge they would willingly place themselves outside the economic mainstream for two years or more, participating in an exchange of labor for learning during which they would receive no wage for the extensive work they would perform. Apprentices labored long hours at arduous tasks, emerging perhaps only with the satisfaction of having begun to master skills for which there seemed at best a marginal demand.
The Shop became a catalyst for a revival of traditional wooden boat building at a time when the craft was deemed to be dead, and a resurgence in a way of learning where craftsmanship, tradition, and community were essential to educating the individual and vital to the cooperative experience. The end result was the development in young people of confidence and self-reliance, and the preservation in action of traditional skills all too easily lost. The Shop was a considerable success, attracting a wide range of individuals who were drawn by a common desire for its tangible nature—belief in doing.
The Shop left Bath in 1982 and moved east to the old Penobscot Boatworks Shop in Rockport, and for the next decade continued to teach traditional woodworking skills and to provide a platform for the study and revival of traditional craft and boat building techniques. Seamanship was always a natural outgrowth of a boat builder’s education, evidenced in Friday afternoon sailing—a practice that continues here in Rockland. Seamanship grew to include Atlantic Challenge, an international contest of seamanship, and as interest grew on an international scale, more projects were conceived which included exchange with other countries of both individuals and techniques. In 1992 the Shop moved again to a former lumber mill in Nobleboro and for three years the renovated mill served as a base for programs in apprenticing and foreign exchange until lack of easy access to the ocean and inadequate space prompted the move to Rockland in 1995.
The Shop moved to its present waterfront location in Rockland’s North End in 1999, and in the spirit of the first Shop, apprentices and staff spent four months renovating what was once a livery stable for the lime kilns—the industry that gave Rockland her name—into the present Shop space. With the space and waterfront access, the Shop continues to develop programs to more fully involve the local community, both youth and adults, through its after school program, collaboration with alternative education programs in the region, evening courses and lectures.
More than three decades have passed since the first keel was laid in a newly resurrected Shop in Bath, and our mission has never changed. Thousands of apprentices, interns, volunteers and visitors have passed through, and hundreds of examples of work have left the Shop floor for new lives on the water. While we are drawn to the beauty and function of the craft we produce, we are confident that it is not solely about the boats.