N.C. Arts Council - James Allen Rose
photo: Roger Haile
James Allen Rose
Folk/Traditional Crafts and Visual Arts
Harkers Island, NC
Samples of James Allen Rose's Work:
Touring Artists Directory Profile
"Building boats was just the natural thing to do, being surrounded by water," says James Allen Rose, a lifelong resident of Harkers Island. The tradition of boat building, for which Harkers Island is well known, was supported and maintained by the local community of fishermen. Like most men who grew up on the Island, James Allen Rose earned his first real money from fishing. That experience taught him firsthand the characteristics of a good boat.
In the off-season for fishing, James Allen Rose built boats. His skills as a boat builder came from working with his father and with other noted boat builders on the island. He learned from the best, and he learned well. He has built more than 80 boats himself, some up to 40 feet long, right in his own back yard.
Today he builds his small boats like he used to build the larger ones, "by the rack of the eye." He carries on his treasured tradition of boat making with pride and remains true to his roots. His contributions to the island community are not limited to boat building, however. Like so many in his community, he is also an accomplished musician and storyteller. His way of life is reflected in his rich Harkers Island brogue and his love of music. James Allen Rose received a North Carolina Folk Heritage Award in 2000. Mr. Rose gives boat-building demonstrations. His fee is negotiable.
Featured Artist: James Allen Rose
"I started carving out six- and eight-inch hulls when I was ten," recalls James Allen Rose, a lifelong resident of Harkers Island. "I had to carve them out with an old pocket knife. Me and other boys spent a lot of time by the shore playing with model skiffs. When they saw my little skiffs bobbing up and down, they thought they were outstanding. I traded them to friends for marbles, spin-tops, and other things."
James Allen's models were inspired by the boats constructed on Harkers Island. "I remember Daddy taking a sail skiff to Straits or Otway to trade fish for sweet potatoes, flour, and other staples we didn't have on the Island," he says. His father and cousins also built fishing boats, powered by gas and diesel engines, that could ply deeper waters. "Commercial fishing and boat building are tied together," he asserts. "How she takes the sea, for instance, or whether the keel is too straight on her; in other words, what would make the best sea-going vessel."
In the off-season for fishing, he worked alongside local boat builders and absorbed the skills that enable him to construct boats "by the rack of the eye" rather than using blueprints. "There was a time when it was all that anyone out here did," he remembers. "There would be a boat in every other yard." James Allen has built more than eighty boats himself, some up to forty feet long, under the oak trees behind his house.
In 1984, arthritis and changes in the fishing industry forced James Allen to give up commercial fishing. Rather than find work off the island, he devoted himself to making models of the large boats that he once built and fished. From spritsail sailing skiffs and roundstern fishing boats to cabin cruisers and mail boats, the models he constructs and displays in his shop represent more than a century of life on the waters of Core Sound.
James Allen estimates that he has sold nearly three thousand miniature boats to people who find their way to him home on Harkers Island. The realization that his models have become symbols of North Carolina's coastal heritage justify the time and effort he has devoted to his craft. "I've dedicated many, many, many hours to little boats," reflects James Allen. "No doubt I could be doing something else, masonry work, building homes. But personally, I derive a great deal of satisfaction from making them. I love every one of them, wherever they are."