How Carpenter’s Boat Shop inspired a gondola builder in Venice

Tue, 04/02/2024 - 10:30am

    Thom Price, a self-described “wood-shop geek” from a family of woodworkers up in Southern Appalachia, credits Pemaquid’s Carpenter’s Boat Shop for providing him with the skills and confidence to become one of Venice Italy’s most celebrated gondola builders. 

    “The Boat Shop played a formative role in my life helping shape my worldview at an important time,” he recalls. And he specifically cites Boat Shop co-founders Bobby and Ruth Ives as mentors who continue to inspire and direct his life’s work. 

    “I was at the Boat Shop from 1991-1993 and fell in love with boats and boatbuilding,” Price says. “I couldn't believe that you could take a pile of lumber and turn it into something so beautiful as a boat with just basic tools. But I built a 21-foot sailing dory with a deck and cabin as my major project for my apprenticeship. 

    “That's how Bobby changed my life,” he adds. A stint teaching traditional woodworking at a school in North Carolina led to completion of his undergraduate college study in Kentucky. A Thomas J. Watson (IBM) Fellowship award then provided Price with the support to spend a year abroad pursuing a project of personal interest.  

    With his Boat Shop experience a powerful driver, “I knew my proposal would have something to do with traditional boats,” Price says, “and I started looking into various places around the world to go when I discovered the Venetian Gondola.  

    “As soon as I started learning about the design and history of that boat, I got a very good feeling about it. I wrote my proposal to learn about building gondolas in Venice, and the Watson Foundation really liked it.  

    “In the spring of 1996, I packed my tools and headed for Italy, not speaking a word of Italian.” 

    That one-year fellowship led to a 10-year vocation as a master gondola craftsman whose work is still celebrated in online chatrooms among fanciers of the light flat-bottomed boats that are the underpinnings of Venetian commerce and tourism. 

    On Thursday night. April 11, at 7:00pm, Price promises to discuss the history and construction of the Venetian gondola in the latest entry in the Carpenter’s Boat Shop Spring Lecture Series. “I'll also talk about finding my maestro, learning Italian (and Venetian), eventually having my own historic boatyard, the difficulties I encountered, abandoning boatbuilding as a career, and my plans to return in the very near future.” 

    Passion for energy research and planning pulled Price away from Venice and, again, he drew inspiration from his Boat Shop experience to move in a new direction. Though Ruth Ives passed away in 2006, “she remained a hero for me,” he explains. “Ruth taught me the importance of helping low-income families have a home that's warm, safe, and dry.  

    “When I moved back to the US in 2007, I went back to Kentucky, where houses were very affordable. I started buying homes, making them energy-efficient, and renting them to low-income families.  

    “There, the problem isn't finding an inexpensive place to rent, but being able to afford the utility bills. By weatherizing the homes, I was able to keep my tenants much longer.” 

    Work at a local community action agency and certification as an energy auditor gave Price a chance to help more people. “I still proudly say that I started in ‘Weatherization’ in the Boat Shop Maine and that gets me lots of street cred with the Department of Energy. 

    “I currently provide support to the DOE, Building Technologies Office on decarbonization initiatives,” he continues. And as he considers his next move after a successful career in energy efficiency, Thom Price looks back to his time at the Boat Shop for inspiration and direction.  

    “I am starting a non-profit organization for boatbuilding apprenticeships here in Baltimore—where I live on a boat—that will look very similar to the Carpenter's Boat Shop and include a program that will be a lot like CHiP,” the Lincoln County corps of volunteers founded by Ruth Ives in 1984 to provide skills and services to people in need  at no cost to homeowners.   

    Price recalls, “The Boat Shop was “the ideal place to discover who I was and to come into my own…. Bobby and Ruth Ives helped shape my worldview at an important time in my life. They taught me that loving my neighbor as myself requires loving myself for who I am and that when my neighbor's world is better, so is mine.” 

    Alicia Witham, Carpenter’s Boat Shop executive director, notes, “This summer we will celebrate our 45th year anniversary. Our apprenticeship program is strong, and we are providing an abundance of opportunities for folks to participate, learn, and be a part of our community.: 

    The Boat Shop’s spring 2024 lecture series concludes on May 9 with an evening with Bobby Ives, the organization’s founder.  

    For more information about the Carpenter’s Boat Shop, and to attend the Virtual Speakers series, email, log onto, or call 677-2614.