John Nagy | November 29, 2016
Joe Green is a boat builder by trade. It’s inherently nomadic work that has taken him as far away from his hometown of Poulsbo, Washington, as the Netherlands and the Chesapeake Bay, and he’s worked on everything from historic fishing-boat replicas to rowing shells to the 42-foot motorsailers of the rich and famous.
Now he builds organs for a living. He still likes boats. But during his crash course in organ case construction and finishing that began with work on the instrument now in Notre Dame’s Basilica of the Sacred Heart, he found that pipe organs get a little more respect and a lot less abuse from their owners.
“The attraction to a place like this,” he says one morning in the wood shop at Paul Fritts and Company Organ Builders in Tacoma, “is that the work we do is going to be around for hundreds of years.
“First of all, it’s this gigantic piece of furniture, but then it’s the most complicated instrument ever devised, and to marry them both, especially with the religious overtones, it’s a pretty cool thing to be a part of.”
He didn’t quite get the same feeling while making a boat for a booze cruise. Even at Seattle’s Center for Wooden Boats, a hands-on museum of maritime history where Green trained volunteers who’d never used tools before in the “really difficult carpentry” of repairing and building watercraft, abiding satisfaction proved elusive. He’d take an old sailboat apart and show his novices how to re-plank it, re-frame it and put a new deck on it, then send it out the door to the livery, where museum visitors could rent them and learn how to sail.
He was proud of his volunteers and the level of craftsmanship they achieved. “It’s a really great premise,” he says — and he means that — “but it’s heartbreaking to see your work crash into a dock at five knots.”