Artists Gone Wild: Chris Pearson | Canoeroots Magazine | Rapid Media
Artists Gone Wild: Chris Pearson Photo Jude S-R Photography

The model maker

Chris Pearson’s love for canoes began as an eighth-grade boy on a church camp canoe trip. It’s never waned. A 16- foot Kevlar Mad River Explorer hangs in his garage today. He speaks of it fondly, having paddled it to James Bay on the Missinaibi River.

But Pearson believes he was born 100 years too late. He swoons sentimentally about old wood and canvas canoes, five of which also sit in his garage. It’s down in his basement sanctuary and wood shop that his affinity for canoes truly becomes apparent. Amid antique lanterns and North Woods paraphernalia sit four immaculate models of historic wooden canoes he painstakingly researched and built.

“Building these blends two of my life loves together: the art of canoes and working to scale with my hands. I love the feel of wood and the smell of it,” exclaims Pearson, a professional model builder in the automotive industry. He built his first miniature canoe in 1989 while recuperating from back surgery.

Pearson’s works are sought by paddlers and non-paddlers, art lovers and collectors. One was displayed at the Canadian Canoe Museum in 2008, part of an exhibit called “The Canoe in Miniature.” To date, he’s built 75 for paying clients who also buy his miniature dioramas, which depict canoe-related scenes.

A 1/8th scale replica of an E.M. White Sport, named Carlotta after his grandmother, sits perched in a woodsy diorama on a shelf in his basement. Each tiny boiled rib and woven cane seat appears as they would have on a full-sized White in the late 1800s when the Maine canoe maker was producing them. Pearson’s miniature Racine canoes replicate early 1900s Wisconsin designs, but his favorite is the larger, 1/5th scale E.H. Gerrish.

Evan Gerrish began building canoes in Bangor, Maine, in the 1800s. Historians credit him with the first commercial wood and canvas designs that evolved from birch bark canoes, but retained certain traditional elements. Gerrish used cane wrappings, for example, to simulate spruce root wrappings found on Native canoes.

“My favorite, by far, is my Gerrish. It’s so elemental,” says Pearson.

His fascination with miniatures blossomed on a grade school trip to a museum in Rochester, New York, where he saw an Iroquois Indian diorama. “Seeing that did something to me; it was cool,” Pearson says. “That’s how I got into model making.”

Forty to 60 hours are required to build each of Pearson’s models; they sell for $800 to $2,000.

Pearson’s dioramas are often built inside Coleman lanterns or on top of Coleman camping stoves. A favorite is “Fresh Off The Form,” a shelf-mounted look at a 1930s era canoe builder’s shop. Inside are a partially complete canoe, a tiny craftsman, and his tools. On the wall is a no smoking sign, a girl in bathing suit pin-up, and a picture of his late-father, a master tinsmith and significant early influence.

“I lost my father eight years ago. I used to love to fart around in his shop as boy,” Pearson says. “He was my best friend, so I put a picture of him in there.”


See more of Chris Pearson’s models at 

Screen_Shot_2015-07-08_at_11.54.42_AM.pngThis article first appeared in the Fall 2015 issue of Canoeroots Magazine in our Artists Gone Wild feature. For more great content, click here and subscribe to Canoeroot’s print and digital editions, or click here to read the current issue.

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