The 2012 America and the Sea Award was given to Jon Wilson and WoodenBoat for their commitment to the celebration and preservation of the skills, treasures, and traditions of the sea and shore. Wilson, the founder of WoodenBoat, accepted the Award Saturday, October 27, at a gala held in his honor at Mystic Seaport.
“By recognizing and unifying a passion for the allure of the design and beauty of wooden boats, Wilson helped transform a nascent renaissance in the early 1970s into a 21st-century industry, in the process ushering in a new golden age for wooden boats in America,” said Mystic Seaport President Stephen C. White. “Those who know Jon Wilson best speak to his passion for humanity and his desire to foster a meaningful connection to the greater community.”
Wilson founded WoodenBoat Publications in September of 1974 with the first issue of WoodenBoat magazine. Jon assembled the magazine in his cabin in North Brooksville, Maine. This was accomplished without electricity or plumbing, and with his telephone nailed to a tree — half a mile down the road. Taking the inaugural issue to the Newport Boat Show, he sold 400 individual copies and signed up 200 subscribers.
From that inauspicious start, the publication has become a touchstone for enthusiasts and professional practitioners from every far flung bay and harbor in the world. WoodenBoat is published six times each year, and now has a circulation of approximately 100,000. With 37 volumes and more than 200 issues in print, the magazine’s backlist comprises one of the most complete and important archives of wooden boat construction, use, and maintenance in existence today.
WoodenBoat has expanded into a book publishing arm; a school on the art of seamanship and wooden boat building; another magazine, Professional BoatBuilder; and event management, holding the WoodenBoat Show annually for 21 years, most recently at Mystic Seaport where it typically draws an audience of 13,000 boating enthusiasts.
Currently, Wilson divides his time between WoodenBoat and his national nonprofit, JUST Alternatives, an organization that fosters face-to-face dialogue between victims of violent crimes and their still-incarcerated offenders. The goal is to help the victims finally be heard by their attackers while at the same time assisting the offenders to become ready to listen and respond in sensitive and authentic ways.
In 1988, he was elected to the Mystic Seaport Board of Trustees and currently serves as Trustee Emeritus.
With its commitment to the celebration and preservation of the skills, treasures, and traditions of the sea and shore, Wilson considers WoodenBoat’s missions to be in total consonance with the missions of Mystic Seaport. He credits the inspiration for WoodenBoat’s somewhat “rigorous” approach to the subject to the late John Gardner. Gardner, the Museum’s small craft curator from 1969 to 1995, was a seminal figure in the documentation, preservation, and renewed appreciation of American small watercraft through his research, writing, speaking, teaching, and building. Much as Gardner was responsible for regenerating interest in an important part of America’s maritime heritage, Wilson has achieved a similar feat for wooden boats in modern times.