“How I came to the birchbark canoes seems, to me, like the greatest wonder of all.”
I grew up in a tiny village in the middle of the Siberian taiga. My childhood was very happy, although – or perhaps because – my parents had very little. My favorite thing to do was to hang around in nature on the back of my horse, and when I was 10 years old I looked after the village’s herd of horses during the holidays. I usually skipped regular classes at the village school. Fortunately for me, there were a few artists and craftsmen at the school at that time who awakened my enthusiasm for creative work with wood.
At the age of 15 I escaped the narrow confines and poverty of my village. I went to the city and got by as a carpenter. It was a wonderful and exciting time – but it wasn’t to be my path. I got severe pneumonia and things weren’t looking good. Yet I recovered and returned to my home village, if not for long.
I was hungry to get to know the world and when the opportunity arose to work as a volunteer in Germany for a year, I jumped at the chance. There I met the boat builder André Rießler. He told me that there used to be birchbark canoes in my homeland that are only found in North America today. I was immediately on fire to unearth this old technique. Once again I returned to my home village, this time on a mission to build a birchbark canoe. I visited people and gathered information. Armed with nothing but a few hand tools, I went with three friends into the taiga for a few weeks and we built the first birchbark canoe. That was more than ten years ago and I haven’t stopped since. During this time I built 20 canoes and offered numerous children and young adults the opportunity to immerse themselves in the craft as part of international youth projects.
Today I live in Germany with my wife Alena. Together we are working to ensure that knowledge about birchbark canoes spreads again.