Recently, I made the trip up to Wisconsin to bring back a handmade piece of art to display at our office in Kansas City. This piece of art was crafted by Marvin Defoe, using only what the northern Wisconsin environment provided to him. Wiigwaasi-Jiimaan is a traditional Chippewa birch bark canoe, and Marvin DeFoe, a master canoe builder, agreed to build us a canoe of our own.
All of us at Travois are very honored to display this piece in our office. It was an honor to meet Marvin and pick up the canoe from him. After the precious cargo was transferred to my car, I sat down with Marvin over coffee to talk about the Jiimaan, which he has titled “Little Joe Jiimaan” after his young grandson.
Marvin explained the process of gathering all the supplies in the Wisconsin Northwoods and how he used techniques passed on to him from generations back. Marvin’s father was a woodcarver, but Marvin found his passion in canoe building.
Marvin also explained that his craft is becoming more difficult because of the changing environment, and the struggle local birch trees are having. It’s becoming more and more difficult to find good canoe birch trees, but Marvin is still hopeful. He told me by making this canoe, he was passing along his hope for the continued craft and tradition of the Wiigwaasi-Jiimaan.
After listening to Marvin discuss the heart and sweat he puts into every one of these canoes, and discussing the changing environment in northern Wisconsin, it’s hard not to think about your place in the environment and what we can do to build hope into our own craft and traditions.
Everyone at Travois is honored to receive this canoe and the hope it brings with it.
Thank you, Marvin.