Don’t rock the boat: Reconstruction and mounting of a waterlogged dugout canoe

Howard Wellman


A 19th century dugout canoe was excavated from the banks of LaTrappe Creek on Maryland’s Eastern Shore in 1993. In the following years it was treated by the standard process of impregnation with polyethylene glycol, and dried in a vacuum freeze-drier at the Maryland Archaeological Conservation Laboratory (MAC). The canoe was recovered in several pieces, continued to break during treatment, and the treated yellow pine now has the approximate strength of hard cheese. Knowing that the canoe would go out on loan to a local museum, the MAC Lab conservator had to devise a reconstruction method and supporting mount that would serve for both transport and display, and could be done with limited resources. The canoe was reassembled by pinning the pieces together with fiberglass rods, with additional adhesion provided by Butvar B-98. The conservator relied heavily on the expertise of a volunteer boat restorer during the pinning and reconstruction. Of equal value was the help of a volunteer blacksmith who built the base frame on which the boat was reconstructed, and then custom fit curved ribs that supported the fragments. The reconstruction and support were intended to work as a permanent unit – once the canoe is in place, its own weight will hold it together and hold it in place on the mount. The museum borrowing the canoe has incorporated the frame into a custom display case, and is providing the case with environmental controls to minimize the natural dimensional movements of the wood. The process used proven techniques adapted from much larger shipwreck conservation projects, but could not have been carried out without the expertise of the MAC Lab’s volunteer corps.

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2006 | Providence | Volume 13