Artists Gone Wild: Kent Lund | Canoeroots Magazine | Rapid Media
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Artists Gone Wild: Kent Lund Photo: Peter Wardowski

The paddle carver

In the 12-by-12-foot wood shop behind his suburban Detroit home, Kent Lund spends hours carving and painting canoe paddles. The Michigan artisan prefers working with cherry, sassafras and curly maple woods. His decorated, often whimsical, designs are created for paddlers and art enthusiasts.

“It’s an addictive eye-hand, tactile thing,” Lund explains about the appeal of crafting custom paddles. “I like carving wood. Paddles are sculptures that you can use.”

Lund began carving them in 2000. His first was a traditional style, made from Sitka spruce. It was a gift to his son Max, an Eagle Scout headed for Minnesota’s Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.

“I wanted to give him something for the trip, something nice that fit well. I didn’t like the two-by-four paddles I saw out there,” Lund notes.

His wife and daughter soon requested one. Then other family members called asking. Word spread, but it was a few years before Lund considered it a business.

His unique designs were exhibited and won awards in 2012 and 2013 at Art Prize in Grand Rapids, Michigan, an international art competition. The exposure helped the fledgling business grow. Lund named it The Grand Rapids Paddle Company.

“My inspiration comes from North American Woodland Indians and the folk art of the canoe guides in the Adirondacks,” says Lund. “They carved by the campfire after a day of paddling. They fixed and repaired paddles in their free time.” Lund researches the style of vintage paddles, and many of his designs feature a lollipop-style grip, unique to Adirondack guide paddles.

A fulltime photographer by day, Lund carves an average of 12 paddles a year—he affectionately refers to the Grand Rapids Paddle Company as the smallest paddle maker in the world—each from a single piece of wood. After the paddle is carved Lund paints it—usually a design inspired by folk art or animals. Each paddle takes 40 to 60 hours to complete and sells for $200 to $550.

One memorable paddle was carved for a northern Michigan canoeing couple, he says. They wanted it made from a tree they had cut down. The planks from it had been drying in their barn for a decade.

“It was a crazy maple, old and unique,” Lund declares. He loved working with its many knots and grain. “I laid the pattern out the best I could to make it as pretty as possible.”

Lund’s regard for fine woodworking began at a young age while working at his father’s Detroit business where car parts were made from wood before being cast in metal. He was enamored with the precision tools and found the scrap bin provided a good opportunity. He began developing his skills first by creating toy boats and fishing lures.

“I try to make every paddle so you can use it,” Lund says. “A well designed tool is art. If it feels comfortable in the hand and works well—I think of it as a handsome tool.”

Find Kent Lund online at customcanoepaddle.com. 

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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