OCEAN SPRINGS — Shane Sekul’s passions for working with clay and wood have led him to making pottery and furniture and boat building and restoration. As a kid growing up in Biloxi, he said, “I didn’t play with GI Joes or toys, I always made things. Wood has always been a passion of mine.”
At 18 he started building boats, fitting for someone from a family of Biloxi fishermen. When he went to Ole Miss, he discovered his artistic side, first in poetry and writing and then in working with clay. He studied at an art school in Baltimore.
Sekul said in his “pre-Katrina heyday” he was throwing 500 pounds of clay a week. “I was only doing only pottery every single day for many years, digging three locations and blending the clay.”
When he and his artist wife, Sherie, a jewelry designer, moved home to Ocean Springs, he concentrated again on wood working. He first built a canoe and a Dory riverboat, a small, shallow-draft boat. “I learned from a lot of mistakes but that’s the best way to learn. You can read about something all day long but until you try it you don’t see what works.”
He was working on a 21-foot center console boat at his pottery studio when Katrina hit. “After Katrina there was such a demand for cabinetry and furniture I was overwhelmed with work.”
Like creating pieces of pottery, Sekul finds turning boards from harvested wood into boats is rewarding. “There’s something about it,” he said of boatbuilding. “When you think about it, a wooden boat is like a floating sculpture. Everything is curved and beveled.”
Sekul has built four boats and just finished a 12-foot stand-up paddle board. One of the boats is a 26-foot replica of a dugout canoe that he and a friend built for the city’s annual 1699 founding reenactment.
Sekul’s passion for restoring boats led to him to form the Mississippi Maritime Heritage Foundation in 2009 when someone donated a 65-foot shrimp boat, the Toni Diane, for restoration.
The foundation’s mission is “to support the preservation and interpretation of the maritime heritage of the Gulf Coast and Mississippi River through maritime-based educational programs and opportunities for the coastal community.” There are 50 members.
Sekul is still working on the Toni Diane and also a donated 40-foot schooler built in 1992
“It’s a replica of the schooners used to transport mail to the Florida Keys. It will be used for teaching sailing and for charters.” A third restoration project is a Sharpie Schooner named Redwing. “It’s looking better than it ever has,” he said. The boat has won numerous awards at wooden boat shows.
Restoring a boat is time consuming and completely different from building one from scratch, he said. “You have to remove the old pieces and put them back in. It’s like building it backwards. You can build three boats before restoring one.”
Sekul does interior and exterior woodworking projects on boats including railings, cabinets and walls and he repairs planks. Word of mouth recommendations bring more jobs. “I’ve been doing it for so long,” he said, “and I’m related to half the Coast.”
A recent project was rigging out a sailboat that the owner bought without the boom or mast, just sails. “I thought, ‘this is awesome,’ to hand shape out a 26-foot mast like a giant toothpick,” he said.
These days, he said, “I’m concentrating more on boat building, new construction instead of restoration.”
Sekul is building three 14-foot Biloxi style skiffs he hopes to sell for $2,000 to $3,000, depending on whether the buyer wants a work boat or a showboat. Smaller boats, he said, are more affordable and are easier to maintain and transport.
Another current project is a pair of Torah stands he is building for a synagogue in Gulfport.
“I never do anything I’m not interested in,” he said, “especially as far as my passion goes for wood, boats and clay. I’m lucky to have passion for something and a way to make money doing something I love to do.”