By Marjorie Nesin
A year after drawing claps and gasps of awe at the launching of his 2011 wooden schooner, the Ardelle, Essex's Harold Burnham has sailed into a new hall of honors.
The National Endowment for the Arts has honored Burnham as a 2012 recipient of a National Heritage Fellowship, making him one of just nine fellows to be so honored this year nationwide, according to an NEA announcement.
Burnham said Wednesday the award, which carries a $25,000 prize, honors not only him, but also the 11 generations of shipbuilders in his family.
"It's great for me, but the thing you really feel grateful for are all the people that helped you along the way with an unlikely career," Burnham said, sitting on a bench in the cabin of the docked Ardelle. He sported a salmon-pink Pinky Ardelle cap pulled over white hair, a deep-rooted tan revealing hours spent on the water, and had his feet in brown, leather boat shoes planted on the floor of the wooden ship, right where they belong.
The endowment chooses recipients who throughout their careers have "honored the history of their art forms while also incorporating their own creativity and innovation to carry the art forms into the 21st century," according to the Tuesday statement.
Burnham designs and builds boats, using hand tools and building with wood harvested from local companies, like Dan Mayer & Mayer Tree Service, Inc. of Essex. Burnham runs an Essex shipyard and is at least the 28th person in at least 11 generations of his extended family to do so.