About the boat
Designing and building the bateau allowed me to explore my relationship to the complex history of river exploration, exemplified by the Kennebec - both the romance of excursion into nature and the undeniable fact of white Americans' history as colonists and subjugators.
The bateau was a traditional wooden work boat, used in the early days of North American colonial history by white farmers, loggers, fur traders, and soldiers, and has largely disappeared. Bateaux, originally built by the French, were called the "white man's canoe," and were rough boats—built out of whatever wood was at hand, made just well enough to last as long as was needed. Benedict Arnold's army traveled in bateaux on their famous Kennebec expedition; Henry David Thoreau traveled in a bateau on his journey to Katahdin.
The materials used in my bateau are mostly traditional: spruce for the frames, pine for the flat bottom, Atlantic cedar for the planks, white oak for the gunwales, breasthooks, and cutwaters. The laps are not glued and are riveted with about 600 copper rivets, each one peened by hand. The finish is a traditional "boat soup," a mixture of turpentine, linseed oil, pine tar, and Japan drier. Modern materials and methods include west-system epoxy laminations in the frames and stems. I taught myself the process from books and trial and error, and also consulted with two trained boat builders, Sara Forristall and Jasper March.
Installation view of Currents 6: Gina Siepel, Colby College Museum of Art, Waterville, Maine. Photo credit: Peter Siegel.
All images and text copyright 2006-2022 Gina Siepel. All rights reserved.