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Robert Gatchell and his model of the ferry Islander. Photo by Lynn Christoffers
The gingerbread man
Smiling like a small child showing off a new toy, he lifts the curtain and unveils his work. Behind the glass panes is a built-to-scale replica of the retired Steamship Authority (SSA) ferry Islander, beautiful and finely crafted. The model is clearly a project Robert Gatchell, woodworker and owner of Splinters and Sawdust in Oak Bluffs, takes a great deal of pride in. And anyone looking at it can see why. The model is not only built-to-scale but comes complete with a working horn, lights and rudder. The retired SSA employee got the blueprints for the beloved vessel and used them to build his masterpiece. What is now under a sheet in Mr. Gatchell's workshop (which seems all too appropriate for a man who spends Christmas Eve in a Santa suit collecting food for the Island Food Pantry) was once on display at the Martha's Vineyard Museum.
Mr. Gatchell recently renovated the gingerbread at One Trinity Park, the Cottage Museum and Shop.
Mr. Gatchell demonstrated his interest in woodworking at a young age, watching his father use tools and then experimenting himself. When he was seven or eight years old, he followed the example of other children, making miniature wooden sailboats to use in the pools at Ocean Park. By age 16, the Cottage City summer resident began restoring and repairing the gingerbread on the quaint, vibrantly colored houses of the campground. What Mr. Gatchell started as a side job done while working his way up the ranks at the SSA has now turned into a full-time job giving him a title he shares with few (if any) others: Gingerbread Specialist.
When he gets a call, he visits the house to see what he's up against. If he can do the job, he comes up with a bid based on the cost of wood and labor. He then retreats to his workshop doing every part of the job he can do without being at the house. "I'm there as little time as possible," he says, explaining that he doesn't want to cause any big disruptions.
When he's finished with a project, he photographs it and his wife, Lynn Gatchell, catalogues it in a massive binder kept in the workshop.
Heather Curtis is a contributing writer to The Times.