Tonight in Fort Lauderdale, the Upper Room Art Gallery will kick off a yearlong public art project centered around the traditional art of creating dugout canoes. Below, the gallery’s Robin Haines Merrill writes about the project and the importance of keeping the art alive.
I’m not a native Floridian, but in the past few years I’ve had the privilege to get to know some of the real natives in the Seminole and Miccosukee Tribes. When I invited a few of them to be daring and participate in a public performance art piece I staged in Fort Lauderdale in 2012 using a dugout canoe on the New River, this was the first response: “You know we drive SUV's now, right?”
I hadn’t realized that most of the skills to even navigate a canoe have been lost, let alone the fact that very few functioning canoes exist. There is a certain rhythm, timing and natural balance that comes with any vehicle or transportation device, such as riding a bike. Without practice, skills can become rusty, or even lost. But what became more intriguing to me as an artist is the craftsmanship involved in creating a Florida dugout canoe from a cypress log, and how this craft needs to be passed down and witnessed from generation to generation to keep it from becoming extinct.