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Douglas Brooks

United States

Grants Awarded

2017 | Crafts | China, Hong Kong, Macau, Japan

for a three-month grant to study traditional boatbuilding in Japan and research its antecedents within the Chinese boatbuilding tradition

2015 | Crafts | Taiwan

for a three-week grant to investigate boatbuilding traditions among the Tao indigenous group of Orchid Island, Taiwan in spring 2016

2014 | Crafts | Japan

a six-week grant to support a collaboration with the last working boatbuilder in the tsunami zone of Tohoku, Japan, in fall 2014

2008 | Crafts | Japan

to document the construction of a traditional sabani fishing boat in Okinawa, Japan

Events

Special Event / United States

An Apprentice Boat Builder in Japan

May 10, 2017

ACC grantee Douglas Brooks, craftsman and Japanese boat specialist and author of the comprehensive survey "Japanese Wooden Boatbuilding," will be speaking at the Japan Society on May 10. He will be sharing what he discovered on his journey to fishing villages around Japan, where he interviewed elderly master boat builders and, in six cases, became their last apprentice. Japan's hand-crafted wooden boats, admired for their timeless beauty and precise construction, have a rich history in the island nation. Fearing that the techniques, designs and secrets of this trade might disappear within one or two generations, craftsman and Japanese boat specialist Douglas Brooks embarked on a quest to preserve and document these time-honored traditions. Moderated by Dane Owen, founder and owner of Shibui Japanese Antiques and Furniture.

Brooks received ACC fellowships for his research on traditional boatbuilding in Japan and Taiwan. 

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Grantee: Douglas Brooks

Special Event / United States

Ways of Learning: An Apprentice Boatbuilder in Japan

March 5, 2019

When people think about Japan, they usually have in their minds images of manga and anime, busy urban centers, and an economy based on innovations in electronics. Most people do not know that there is also a “second Japan” wherein lies a rich history of traditional arts and crafts, many of which are fast disappearing. ACC alumnus Douglas Brooks has apprenticed with seven boatbuilders in Japan since 1996, building over a dozen types of traditional boats. In this slide talk he will share his experiences with traditional crafts drawn from twenty-two trips to Japan since 1990. Brooks’ research in Japan focuses on the techniques and design secrets of the craft. These techniques have been passed from master to apprentice with almost no written record. His most recent book, Japanese Wooden Boatbuilding (Floating World Editions, 2015) is the first comprehensive survey of the craft, spanning his first five apprenticeships and including a chapter on Japan’s last traditional shipwright. Brooks will sell and sign copies of his book after the talk.

Brooks will also talk about the nature of craft education in Japan; an ethic that is largely at odds with our notions of teaching in the West. The apprentice system produced craftspeople with incomparable skills, yet it required an intense devotion and seriousness from participants. Brooks has experienced first-hand what it is like to learn when the apprentice is forbidden from speaking. At the core of this process is the belief that one learns by observation and perseverance.

Douglas Brooks is a boat builder, writer and researcher who specializes in the construction of traditional wooden boats for museums and private clients. He worked in the Small Boat Shop at the National Maritime Museum in San Francisco from 1985-1990 and has since built boats at museums in Japan and across the United States. He teaches classes in boat building and has written regularly for magazines like WoodenBoat, Classic Boat (UK), and KAZI (Japan). Brooks attended the Williams Mystic Seaport Program in American Maritime History, and he is a 1982 graduate of Trinity College (B.A., philosophy) and a 2002 graduate of the Middlebury College Language School (Japanese). In 2014 he was awarded the American Craft Council’s Rare Craft Fellowship Award. He lives with his wife Catherine in Vergennes, Vermont.

Japanese Boatbuilding Demonstration 1:00 PM- 2:00 PM in the BMC Shop
There are two major differences between boatbuilding in the west and in Japan. The first is the use of a series of saws to fit the seams between planks, which are fastened without any caulking. The second is the use of edge-nailing to fasten planks together into wide strakes. Japanese boat nails are hand-made of flat steel stock.

In this demonstration Douglas Brooks will fit two planks in the Japanese fashion, working on the shop floor. Then he will use a special set of chisels to cut pilot holes for the nails and edge-nail the planks together. Brooks will discuss the tools and techniques specific to boatbuilding in Japan as well as answer questions.

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Grantee: Douglas Brooks

Special Event / United States

Ways of Learning: An Apprentice Boatbuilder in Japan

March 8, 2019

When people think about Japan, they usually have in their minds images of manga and anime, busy urban centers, and an economy based on innovations in electronics. Most people do not know that there is also a “second Japan” wherein lies a rich history of traditional arts and crafts, many of which are fast disappearing. ACC alumnus Douglas Brooks has apprenticed with seven boatbuilders in Japan since 1996, building over a dozen types of traditional boats. In this slide talk he will share his experiences with traditional crafts drawn from twenty-two trips to Japan since 1990. Brooks’ research in Japan focuses on the techniques and design secrets of the craft. These techniques have been passed from master to apprentice with almost no written record. His most recent book, Japanese Wooden Boatbuilding (Floating World Editions, 2015) is the first comprehensive survey of the craft, spanning his first five apprenticeships and including a chapter on Japan’s last traditional shipwright. Brooks will sell and sign copies of his book after the talk.

Brooks will also talk about the nature of craft education in Japan; an ethic that is largely at odds with our notions of teaching in the West. The apprentice system produced craftspeople with incomparable skills, yet it required an intense devotion and seriousness from participants. Brooks has experienced first-hand what it is like to learn when the apprentice is forbidden from speaking. At the core of this process is the belief that one learns by observation and perseverance.

Last year Brooks apprenticed in Gifu, Japan, where he built a 42-foot cormorant fishing boat working alongside an 85-year old boatbuilder. These boats are still used by a handful of fishermen who continue a thousand-year old tradition of fishing with cormorants. In 2015 Brooks apprenticed with the last boatbuilder active in the region struck by the 2011 tsunami. There he documented the most common small wooden fishing boat of the Tohoku region, and area that saw 90% of all boats destroyed in the disaster.

Japan’s last generation of traditional boatbuilders has almost disappeared. Brooks’ teachers were all in their seventies and eighties when he worked with them. He is the sole apprentice for six of his seven teachers. In a 2003 nationwide study sponsored by the Nippon Foundation, Brooks was listed as the sole foreigner capable of building wasen, or traditional Japanese boats. The average age of the 300 boatbuilders listed in the survey in 2003 was sixty-nine. His first book, The Tub Boats of Sado Island; A Japanese Craftsman’s Methods, was honored by the Japanese Ministry of Culture for its contribution to maritime preservation.

Douglas Brooks is a boatbuilder, writer and researcher who specializes in the construction of traditional wooden boats for museums and private clients. He worked in the Small Boat Shop at the National Maritime Museum in San Francisco from 1985-1990 and has since built boats at museums in Japan and across the United States. He teaches classes in boat building and has written regularly for magazines like WoodenBoat, Classic Boat (UK), and KAZI (Japan). Brooks attended the Williams Mystic Seaport Program in American Maritime History, and he is a 1982 graduate of Trinity College (B.A. Philosophy) and a 2002 graduate of the Middlebury College Language School (Japanese). In 2014 he was awarded the American Craft Council’s Rare Craft Fellowship Award. He lives with his wife Catherine in Vergennes, Vermont. To see photos of his boats and learn more about his research, please visit: www.douglasbrooksboatbuilding.com.

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Grantee: Douglas Brooks