Tim Whitten | Belvedere Craft Fellow 2021

  • November 16, 2020

Tim Whitten | Maine Arts Fellowship - Deer Isle, Maine

Statement - Work, Philosophies, Maine Connection

I identify my area of work as marlinespike craft, which encompasses a broad range of weaving, braiding, knotting and sewing skills. Because of the materials and application, there is a strong maritime connection to the craft. The pieces that I make are practical in function but sculptural in form. I feel that what draws me to this type of work are the range and scale of elemental geometries from the simple spiral twist of a piece of rope to the complex, multidimensional patterns in a bell lanyard or chest handle.

The materials that I work with are predominantly natural and traditional and include threads and cords in cotton, hemp and linen, canvas and leather. The word marlinespike can refer to a tool used by sailmakers and riggers, but also more broadly as the genre of work done by people in those occupations. Some examples of marlinespike work are large scale and heavy duty such as spliced mooring lines, but my pieces tend to be small scale "fancy marlinespike work". Many techniques were not as such invented by sailors or fishermen, but are borrowed from all aspects of fiber arts, spanning time and cultures globally.  

 The primary forms that I focus on are the bell rope which is an intricately woven lanyard attached to the clapper of a bell to facilitate ringing, the chest becket or handle seen on the traditional maritime sea chest, and the ditty bag, a heavy duty canvas tote bag stitched together using traditional sailmaking techniques and carried by a long ornately woven lanyard. I am a self taught artisan and have learned though research and study of literature. It is not difficult to find instructional references for isolated methods but one is forced to invent a great deal of technique in the pursuit of assembling the discreet pieces into larger finished forms. The innovation of technique and preservation of a certain traditional aesthetic are some of the main components that I have been able to contribute to the field.

I was born in Connecticut to parents who left Maine for careers in education, but as a youth returned year after year for nearly entire summers of primitive tent camping in Washington County. My college education was at Clarkson University and ultimately led to nearly twenty years of residing in Northern New York, during which time I earned a BS, ME and PhD in Mechanical Engineering, and also met and married my wife. It was toward the end of graduate school when I began to rediscover an adolescent interest in marlinespike rope work, quickly becoming proficient and opened an online store selling my work. From my formative experiences as a youth, I had always regarded Maine and the Downeast region in particular as a magical and inspirational place. I had no connection to the maritimes in a seafaring sense but became growingly cognizant that the Maine coast was where my roots were and where I wanted to call home. Thus as my marlinespike work took hold as a career path, and my wife and I investigated leaving Northern New York, Hancock County became the destination of focus. We moved to Deer Isle in 2008 and subsequently opened a shop and studio gallery. I continue to work and show my items at the Marlinespike Chandlery in Stonington. 


Statement - Award Meaning

I am tremendously pleased to have been selected for the Belvedere Craft Fellowship. I am thankful to have had a loyal following of customers but I am particularly proud to receive recognition from a body such as the Maine Arts Commission. It was a significant departure from the perceived career path, for me to leave the field of engineering and work in the arts, but the reception my work received early on was a significant factor reassuring me that I was onto something worthwhile. The Belvedere Craft Fellowship award is a magnified form of that reassurance which reminds me I'm doing something worthwhile. 

I am also pleased that I have been successful as a representative for the field of marlinespike work in the global sense, and that I have been able to elevate the craft to a level worthy of recognition in this manner.

Given concerns surrounding the pandemic, this award could not have come at a better time. I have been able to maintain my gallery operations but have not opened the space for walk in browsing which led to a significant cut in revenue, and so it will be a great help to use a portion of the award to offset my regular operating expenses. I would also like to take the opportunity to dedicate some time and money toward the creation of an archive of my work, in both print and physical form.



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Ryan Leighton

193 State Street
SHS 25
Augusta  ME  04333