When A Craftsman Dies…The Entire Outdoors Mourns The Loss

I would guess that the typical outdoorsman probably wasn’t aware of Joe Seliga’s existence and the lifetime contribution he made to the canoeing world.   As such, I must admit that I was not aware of who he was until recently, either.   Nevertheless, his death just days before Christmas last year serves as a reminder that slowly the outdoor world is losing the very folks whose name is synonymous with quality and craftsmanship.

This blog is not directly about Joe, because how do you memorialize someone whom you never met and really don’t know much about except for what you’ve read.   For additional information on Joe, all you need to do is check out a blog that now serves to honor his life achievements.   Or better yet, conduct a Google search and the name will show up scattered throughout canoeing literature and history.

Instead, this blog is to remember all the “Joes” of this world who have made tremendous contributions to the outdoor world…but are slowly passing on thus completing their living legacies.   Consider the likes of Fred Bear, Bob Allen, and a host of lesser known names like E.J. Dailey…all folks who have passed on recently but not before they carved out a niche in the outdoors by perfecting a quality product and creating a legacy that now bears their name.

Unfortunately, we do not always take the time to appreciate and understand what outdoor heritage we are losing with the passing of our older generation.   I fear we no longer live in a world where a person would devote an entire lifetime to perfect and develop a quality product that somehow benefits the entire outdoors world—either directly or indirectly.

Today, we live in a disposable world where quality is not always important.   If an item doesn’t last…it only gives us an excuse to buy the newest, greatest model a few years later.   I also think that subconsciously some of us outdoorsmen expect to only get a few years of use out of the outdoor products we buy.   Seemingly gone is the more frugal attitude of our parents and grandparents where a hunting vest was expected to last a lifetime, a fishing rod didn’t get replaced until the current one broke, a dull knife always got sharpened, not replaced…and so on.

Not too long ago Northern Minnesota lost a craftsman world renowned for his handmade snowshoes.   At the time of his death, he had a waiting list that would have placed him well past the century mark if he was to finish all the orders he had taken for his quality snowshoes.   His name now escapes me…and a Google search was unsuccessful in locating the details of his legacy, but imagine the world wanting something that you produce and willing to wait for years until you get a chance to produce it.   Simply incredible.

There’s a certain pride in owning a product known to be the best…and not mass produced on machinery.   Maybe it is a hand-crafted fly-fishing rod for which you wouldn’t dare tell your spouse exactly how much you paid…or maybe it’s a one-of-a-kind turkey call that was crafted and carefully tuned by some expert known for his abilities with the calling championships to back it up.

Next month I will be going to the annual SHOT Show (Shooting, Hunting and Outdoor Trade Show) and I will predictably see 1,000’s of items that are mass produced and stamped out by machinery.   Rare is the show booth that features a craftsman who takes a bare chunk of wood and slowly develops his wonders into an outdoor masterpiece.   I’m not saying that these folks are not still out there…but they are part of a dying breed that someday we will all surely miss.

During the coming year look for ways how your outdoor escapades could be enhanced by using the equipment crafted by a noted artist of their trade.   Whether it be a custom made knife, a shotgun that is beautifully transformed by some detailed checkering and metallic in-lays by a quality gunsmith, or whatever your interest may be.   The point is the outdoors experience is truly enhanced and thus better appreciated when you take pride in the equipment you use.

And if you’re lucky enough to find a craftsman in such demand, such as Joe Seliga and his canoes, consider yourself fortunate when the waiting list to receive such an item is only a few years long.   During the years to come, finding folks such as Joe will grow increasingly more difficult to discover.

© 2006 Jim Braaten.  All Rights Reserved.   No Reproduction without Prior Permission.