Tributes Paid to Will Ansel

At the celebration of Will Ansel in the Shipyard at Mystic Seaport Museum on Friday there were some photographs of Will, taken by Museum photographer Andy Price at the 2007 WoodenBoat Show/Small Craft Weekend.

13 May 2019

By Göran R Buckhorn

Göran R Buckhorn goes to a celebration of Will Ansel’s life.

Around 100 people, family and friends of Will D. Ansel, gathered at the Henry B. duPont Preservation Shipyard at Mystic Seaport Museum on Friday, 10 May, to celebrate the life of boatbuilder, writer and artist Will Ansel, who, at age 90, passed away on 13 April 2019. On 6 May, I published a eulogy on HTBS for my friend Will.

Here follow some photographs that I took in the Shipyard of the occasion.

People gathering in the Main Shop at the Museum’s Shipyard for the celebration of Will Ansel.
Will Ansel’s son Walter telling stories about his father’s life. As a 6-year-old Will moved to China with his parents and siblings when his father was serving on a U.S. destroyer patrolling the Chinese Sea. In 1938, the Ansel family – Will, his mother and siblings – had to flee when Japanese’ forces attacked China. Walter said that Will had told him that the family’s Chinese nanny had grabbed Will under her arm and started running down to the harbour where they lived. The Ansels fled to the Philippines, but again, head over heels, they had to flee when the Japanese forces invaded the Philippines in 1942. Walter also read a wonderful essay written by Will in 1971 about what it was like to work as a shipwright at Mystic Seaport Museum before the opening of the Henry B. duPont Preservation Shipyard. Walter’s speech was followed by some remembrances by his daughter, Evelyn, who spoke warmly about her grandfather. Quentin Snediker, director of the Shipyard, also spoke about how he met and worked with Will.
A 2015 photograph of three generations of boatbuilders working at Mystic Seaport Museum, Walter, Evelyn and Will, restoring the whaleship “Charles W. Morgan”. This photograph was taken by Museum photographer Andy Price.
On display in the Shipyard was also some of Will’s books, tools, a half-model, a painting and sketch book.

Some of the boats that Will built for Mystic Seaport Museum were on display in the Shipyard.

One of the Museum’s workboats, “Maynard Bray”, named after the Shipyard’s supervisor in the 1970s, was on display. She has by now gone through a couple of engines, but the hull is still solid, a credit to Will’s boatbuilding skills.

For the celebration of Will Ansel, the shipwrights had moved the Noank smack “Emma C. Berry”, a fishing sloop built down Mystic River in the village of Noank in 1866, from her regular berth on the Museum waterfront to the Shipyard. The “Emma C. Berry” was one of the first larger restoration works that Will worked on at the Museum in 1970 and 1971. One of Will’s jobs during the restoration of the boat was to document the work. In 1973, his book “Restoration of The Smack Emma C. Berry at Mystic Seaport, 1969-1971” came out. The book became a sort of ‘bible’ for Will on how to restore other vessels in the Museum’s collection. Walter said in his speech that if he asked Will to help him solve a restoration problem Walter had with a boat, Will would always say: ‘I don’t know, look in the BOOK’.

Photography: Göran R Buckhorn

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