August 15, 2018

Ships of the Great Lakes

Why I Love Ships of the Great Lakes

Ever since I was a child, I’ve drawn pictures of boats and ships. I also, drew dinosaurs, rockets, castles and dragons. But, ships were my favorite. I built models of ships, and imagined strolling their decks. I memorized the names of the parts and learned their purpose. As I drew, I learned the language of the sailor and my fascination grew as my drawings improved.

My father taught me to sail at an early age. He shared his love for the sea, through books by Slocum, Mellville, Conrad and Dana. Through their words, I imagined sailing to adventures in far-off places. The more I learned about ships, the more “real” my drawings looked, to me. They became 3-dimensional and full of detail, as I became a sailor, on a small boat, on an inland lake.

As a teenager, I crewed aboard racing sailboats on Lake Michigan and worked in boatyards. I helped deliver a yacht down the Mississippi River and “discovered” the ocean. I worked aboard a shrimpboat off the coast of Georgia and I handlined for mackerel in the Gulf of Mexico. I turned 21 aboard the Cable Schooner, “Western Union” and sailed numerous boats in the Florida Keys. I drew them all, and sold my drawings, first as a street artist, then through galleries in Key West.

As a child, I watched the Longships and Salties making their way up and down Lake Michigan. Their distant silhouettes, by day, and long rows of lights, by night, filled me with wonder. In the summer of 1974, I shipped aboard the 852’ “Roger Blough”, sailing six months through the Winter Run. We hauled iron ore from the western shore of Lake Superior, to the steel mills on the southern shores of Lake Michigan and Lake Erie. I read every book I could find about the history of the Great Lakes, while experiencing their vast serenity and awesome power. Years later, this research and experience led to the creation of “GREAT LAKES AND GREAT SHIPS, An Illustrated History For Children”. It is also what I bring to my Illustration Workshops.


The following drawing projects, use boats and ships of the Great Lakes as the main characters of our illustrations. Through storytelling and step-by-step instructions, students “build” their own, highly detailed, 3-dimensional vessels. They learn that every line has a name, place and purpose. The ships become our “Time Machines” as we explore man’s quest for, and use of the natural resources of our Great Lakes Region. Students add background details, shading and texture, to end with an “Awesome” illustration, in less than an hour. Multiple-session workshops are available for all topics, resulting in 4-8 page books. These workshops are a great introduction to an area of study, emphasize and develop art, research and writing skills, and, best of all, are FUN.

“Your presentation was just great with the children – one of the best I’ve seen. The children were thrilled with their new found ability to draw ships!”

– Jan Timmer, Teacher, Mary A. White School, Grand Haven

Select from the following topics, to introduce or compliment your Michigan History Curriculum: You’ll find Native Americans, Explorers, Fur Traders, Sailors, Shanty Boys and more…

1Canoe-Dugout3000 BCOld Copper Culture-Mines in the U.P.
2Canoe-Dugout1500 ADIroquois Culture, Costumes and Customs
3Canoe-Birchbark1500 ADAlgonquian, Huron and/or Sioux Cultures
4Canoe-Birchbark1700sVoyageurs-Fur Trade/Cultural Interaction
5Viking Ship1100sNorse Voyages to the Great Lakes?
6Carrack14-1500sEuropean Exploration-Two Worlds Meet
7GRIFFON1600sLa Salle’s Ship-Exploration and Fur Trade
8OSWEGO1750sEuropean War Fleets on the Great Lakes
9NIAGARA1812Commodore Perry’s Victory on Lake Erie
10WALK in the WATER1820sFirst Steamship on the Great Lakes
11Canal Boats1830sThe Erie Canal and Immigration West
12PHOENIX1840sThe Perils of Immigration-Fire on the Lakes
13CHALLENGE1850sThe Great Lakes Schooner
14Schooner1860sVoyage From the Shipyard to the Scrapyard
15Lumber Hooker1880sFrom Forest to Steamship
16PEWABIC1860sCopper Mining-Shipwreck & Salvage
17PHILO PARSONS1865The Civil War on the Great Lakes
18INDIA1870Passenger Steamers-Leisure and Commerce
19Lifesaving Boats1870sShipwreck and Rescue
20DAVID DOWS1880sLargest Sailing Schooner on the Great Lakes
21Fish Tugs18-1900sCommercial Fisheries-From Sail to Power
22ONOKO1880sFirst Iron Steamship on the Lakes
23CHAMPION1880sTugboat with Tow-End of the Age of Sail
24Whalebacks1890sPig Boats, Passengers and Iron Ore
25TASHMOO & ERIE1890sThe Great Race-Ships and Prosperity
26WAWATAM1900sCar Ferry-Rail Transportation in Michigan
27War Fleet1918/40sGreat Lakes Wartime Shipbuilding
28the FITZGERALD1975The Last Voyage
29the BADGERTodayCar Ferry-Transportation and Recreation
30the BARKERToday1000 ft. Super Ships-Commerce in Change
31Racing YachtsTodayLeisure and Sport-Rigging and Nomenclature
32Fishing BoatsTodayGill Nets to Trap Nets-Managed Resource

Single and multiple-session workshops are available.

Woodruff Designs