Model builder Hughes keeps history alive

Submitted to Dorchester Banner Lee Hughes practices a life-long hobby, model boat building, to produce gifts for friends and donations to his tribe, the Nause-Waiwash Band of Indians, Inc.

Submitted to Dorchester Banner
Lee Hughes practices a life-long hobby, model boat building, to produce gifts for friends and donations to his tribe, the Nause-Waiwash Band of Indians, Inc.

CAMBRIDGE – When Lee Hughes first picked up woodworking tools as a young boy in Andrews, it must have seemed like a natural thing to do. After all, his father was a waterman, and the men in the village were all good with their hands, so putting together model workboats fit right in.

Now, several decades later, Mr. Hughes still builds the miniature vessels, though not only for his own enjoyment – they are expressions of his bonds with his friends, neighbors and fellow members of the Nause-Waiwash Band of Indians, Inc.

Andrews, in south-central Dorchester County, was originally a campsite for the area’s Native Americans. By the early years of the 20th century, there were a couple of stores, a post office and a church, supported by families engaged in traditional occupations, such as working on the water.

With changes in the local economy and ways of life, much of old Andrews is just a memory, except for Wesley Chapel, which remains a link to the past. “It’s about the onlyest thing left,” Mr. Hughes said.

But while change is probably inevitable, not everything need be lost.

“I do what I can,” Mr. Hughes said of his craft. “It keeps our culture alive and going. It helps to educate others about our culture.”
After spending several months on a boat – these things end up being worth a pretty penny, though he doesn’t sell them – Mr. Hughes donates a model every year to the Band’s annual Pow-Wow, where it is auctioned to support the group.

He believes, in his modest and soft-spoken way, that this is one way to reach the younger generation, to help reveal Indian culture. “A lot of people don’t know there are still Indians here,” Mr. Hughes said.

Mike Day is a close friend, a neighbor who glances out his window to be sure Mr. Hughes’ lights are on when the men usually rise about 5:30 a.m., “to be sure he’s up and ok,” Mr. Day said.

The quiet kindness of Mr. Hughes touched Mr. Day, who sees his friend as something of a father figure now, someone who will pass on his knowledge of model building. “He’s going to show me the trade,” Mr. Day said.

He’s learning that it’s not fast work. In fact, with each piece being shaped individually by hand, then carefully glued and nailed with half-inch brads, it takes months. For Mr. Hughes, who doesn’t see so well anymore – “Blind as a bat,” he said – it’s done pretty much by feel.

Maybe that’s what makes the models such special gifts – the patience and care that goes into each. “There’s a lot of love in these boats,” Mr. Day said.

The 26th Annual Native American Festival will take place Sept. 15 and 16 at the ball field in Vienna. Admission is $5, children under 6 are free.
For information on the event and the tribe, visit www.turtletracks.org.

Dave Ryan is editor of the Dorchester Banner. He can be reached at dryan@newszap.com.

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