Saturday, May 4, 2013

Canvas Craft in Denmark: Learning from Svend Ulstrup

Steaming ribs in Svend`s barn workshop.
Svend Ulstrup first went to Greenland with a friend from the North. There he built hunting qajaq (skin on frame boats of the Arctic) with the Inuit and hunted alongside them in their beautiful vessels of survival. Since that time as a young man, he has be building traditional watercraft and teaching an ecological philosophy through the practice of traditional arts. Thomas Soe is a current student of Svend`s in a technique for building canvas canoes (like those in Southern Canada, free form.

Bending ribs
Talking quietly about the world at large as steam rose from our steam box, we bent rib by rib onto a simple form Svend and Thomas had made. Svend uses his eye to place ribs correctly in a canvas canoe with the goal of making them unique and living. This is the process with his qajaq. Once made of seal skin, cotton canvas (and other synthetic cloths) have replaced the covering, but the wooden frame and lashing techniques remain. The eye and feel of the curves is center to making the right shape, it is an intuition. It is not a math, but a nature. Svend seeks to keep alive a native way of building, one that "asks the qajaq" what to do.

Svend and Thomas marking  ribs
Survival, knowledge of the environment, the feel, the respect for the tradition, these are all the ideas Svend plants deeper into my mind for why these traditions are so interesting and important. After a big lunch of liver and sheep meat fresh from Svend`s farm, we go to see the 31 baidarka (qajaq styles from Aleutian Islands near Alaska) he just gathered students to build, an Umiak or open face cargo skin vessel, and a Bronze Age experimental canoe, that may have existed in such a form preVikings. I am glad to know Svend and I am glad Svend knows the Qajaq.

Svend shows how to use a Nordic Style Axe to cut birch wood.  Svend is always combining the best of the cultures that taught him.

In the continuum of Svend`s knowledge of Greenlandic Qajaq (kayak), I will be spending the next two months in Norway with Anders Thygesen, a colleague of Svend`s. I will become Ander`s apprentice and delve into the production of canvas on frame kayaks made in traditional methods. Over the next few months of articles, you can take part in the process of learning this holistic art.

1 comment:

  1. This will be an interesting adventure to follow along with you. It seems as though Sven puts great love and care into his very methodical processes .What is the kind of wood he is using?