Middle and Upper School Arts News & Stories

The Art of Boat Building
Posted 11/06/2014 12:58PM

Students build boats and other watercrafts in sculpture class.

The desire to build boats runs deep in humankind.

Boats can be works of art, feats of engineering, and vessels for exploration. At Riverdale, boats are all these things, and more. They represent another opportunity to build the character strengths that Riverdale supports.

Miles Cameron, an Upper School visual arts teacher, began incorporating boat building into his yearlong Sculpture II class three years ago. He suggested to the students that they could collaborate on a single major project. They embraced the idea, and built a 17-foot-long rowboat.

Since then, Riverdale has continued to build boats, and the school’s fleet has grown to three. But space to house the boats is limited, and so this year, the class will be applying the same design and woodworking skills to “mini boats”: long boards, surfboards and stand-up paddleboards.

“It’s all the same technology and process as building a boat,” Cameron said, “but in the end they will have something that they can take home and use.”

To develop essential woodworking skills, students currently are building a wood box with interlocking dovetail joints. The box can hold its form without glue or hardware. The piece will be sanded, varnished and finished into a functional yet beautiful object. From there, students will design 3-dimensional models of their boards using sophisticated computer software and Riverdale's new CNC router (a computer-controlled cutting machine) to create the internal frame. They will plank the frame with cedar like a traditional boat, and finish the project with their knowledge of wood construction.

Cameron says that by doing individual projects, each student will have personal control over the final product. And because it is their project, he won’t be telling them “when and what to do.” The teaching will be much more individual, he said, “a really good learning experience for all of us.”

As for the boats, the faculty is talking about how they can be used for Outdoor Club activities in the area. And who knows how the fleet will expand as students become experienced at scaling down the idea of a boat to something more portable and personal.

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