Coracles: Marina Szijarto, Richmond Maritime Festival

Sunday’s coracle, fully woven but still in the jig

Richmond Maritime Festival happens every year on the second weekend in August. For two days, the quiet stretch of old boardwalks and wooden heritage buildings of Britannia Heritage Shipyards, on the south arm of the Fraser, is lushly populated with artists, makers, boatbuilders, theatre set decorations, dancers, stilt-walkers, food trucks and a full roster of musicians on the main stage.
Festival Artistic Director Marina Szijarto created a demonstration project to highlight the ancient technology of woven skin-on-frame boats. These boats are known all over the world by different names, and are thought to date back to the paleolithic era. The style of coracle we were making and the didactic panels reflected part of Marina’s heritage in the traditions of England, Wales and Ireland, with a woven frame of willow. Joy Witzsche and Bea Edelstein have been the weavers for the past two years; this year, with Bea away in Europe, Marina invited me to join Joy for the weekend. Joy has created a photo essay that includes coracles from all over the world — the single-hide ‘bull boats’ of the Plains, large plaited bamboo boats of India, and the massive quaffa of Iraq —  and throughout the weekend, festival goers shared their stories of seeing coracles in use as tenders in Vietnamese harbours, of riding across rivers in coracles in India, and in seeing the elders work on coracles on their home rivers in Kazakhstan.

Saturday’s coracle, out of the jig and ready for skinning


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