Festival pays homage to wooden canoes

Posted Aug. 09, 2009, at 8:35 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 30, 2011, at 12:14 p.m.

MEDWAY, Maine — Out-of-staters Kaitlin Bennett and Rachel Voicechowski, spending a few weeks camping near Baxter State Park, came upon the Wooden Canoe and Arts Festival accidentally.

And they were glad they did.

“We are both really outdoorsy, so this is really fun for us,” Voicechowski said Saturday. “These are really very nice. There’s a lot of good craftsmanship here.”

About 35 new and used canoes, and 1,200 people, were part of the one-day event at the Roy Powers Recreational Area off the Penobscot River and Route 157, organizer Avern Danforth said.

“We haven’t been swamped with people, but it’s been very steady,” Danforth said.

In its 13th year, and fifth in Medway after being held for many years in Millinocket, the festival gives residents from around the state and beyond a chance to celebrate and learn about one of Maine’s most enduring, yet dying, customs — wooden canoe construction.

Probably the most elaborate craft was Jerry Stelmok’s Millennium Sojourner, a $12,500 piece of handmade artistry. A longtime festival participant, the Atkinson resident and owner of the Island Falls Canoe Co. said the Sojourner was among 12 he is building that feature a design derived from the work of E.M. White of Bangor.

With a painted mural of Maine wildlife along its sanded birch-bark flanks, spruce root ties ornamentally affixed to its bow and stern, carved moose-bone handles and silver tags, the gleaming Sojourner was probably the most expensive craft at the festival, though at least three other boats probably came close.

Though all quite seaworthy, the best of the canoes could find homes in art museums or in rustic living rooms as centerpieces.

War canoe and Maine Amateur Canoe and Kayak Race Organization races on the river, floatplane rides, folk music, American Indian displays, arts and crafts sales, and a public pig roast supper were also part of the event.

“This is one of the best festivals we have had in a long time,” co-organizer Warren Richardson said. “Mostly it’s the good weather, I think.”

The festival also gives residents a chance to enjoy the recreation area and its sandy beach, which some town officials think is Medway’s most underused asset.

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