Keeping a tradition shipshape

Handcrafted creations for the mantel – or the bathtub
By Brian Soergel | Feb 23, 2017
Photo by: Brian Soergel Tom Case’s boats are a popular attraction at the Bainbridge Arts and Crafts gallery on Bainbridge Island.

Shortly after beginning his ophthalmology practice in Poulsbo in the mid-’70s, Tom Case found a hobby – building model boats – that kept him busy at all hours in his barn shop.

Now 75 and living at Edmonds Landing, a retirement and assisted-living residence where he requires full-time care, Case can’t devote as much time as he’d like to creating his tugboats, barges, paddle wheelers, freighters, fishing boats and, of course, ferries.

Case has Parkinson’s disease, whose degenerative effects mean he can no longer craft his boats as often as he’d like. That’s why he’s teaching his son Derek, 35, to continue on with the practice.

“I’d like to see the tradition carry on,” Case said recently from Edmonds Landing. His wife, Mary Anne, sat near him, and offered written notes on her husband’s career and a business card that read “Case & Co: Handcrafted Toy Boats.”

Making model boats is a tradition that Case himself picked up from Mary Ann’s late father, Marvin Lambert, who worked for Todd (now Vigor) Shipyards as an outfitting superintendent, whose work including building the interior of several Washington State ferries.

“I would watch him make his toy boats and I thought, hey, I could do that,” Case said. “He was grateful, and wanted to help me learn it. It worked out so well. Now I think I’ve sold more boats than my father-in-law did.”

Most of Case’s boats are sold from Bainbridge Arts & Crafts, the Bainbridge Island art gallery that has exhibited Case’s work for more than 30 years. The boats can fetch up to $200 each.

“Tom Case’s boats are a pure delight,” said Lindsay Masters, the gallery’s executive director. “They meld design ingenuity, outstanding engineering and a real sense of fun. Tourists and locals love them equally, particularly his ferry boats, which are so representative of our island. And we love telling everyone that Tom’s boats are completely seaworthy – which means that they hold up in the bathtub.”

Case also had exhibited his boats for the annual Edmonds Art Studio Tour from his home on Walnut Street, where Mary Ann – an artist who also has been part of the studio tour – still lives. It’s at the home where Case continues to mentor his son on the finer details of crafting his chosen art.

The boats themselves are constructed from cedar, the hull, and aluminum, the superstructure. They are then coated with one to three applications of water-resistant paint. A punch press and shear create the design, and a jig is used for patterns.

When Case was in his heyday of making boats, it may have taken him a few days to plan the design, where his four years of drafting in high school helped a great deal. When it came time to create, he said it would take up to three hours to finish a project.

Some of his boats are purchased for decoration, but he said they are built to float. “They’re a very durable toy.”

They’ve also brought in some extra spending money over the decades.

“I got a check today,” he said, breaking into a grin.




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