It Takes A Village: A Short Buoy Auction & Lobster Trap Documen-Tree

Each year, Cape Ann Art Haven leads a community-wide charge to build a Christmas tree made of lobster traps, dawned with buoys painted by local schoolchildren. And while most people are familiar with the iconic structure, now in it's 16th year of existence, it's hard to comprehend the amount of work that goes into making it happen, and more importantly, why it happens at all in the first place.

About 15 years ago when I was in O’Maley Middle School, I met a good friend of mine named David Brooks. We sat next to each other in art class, and even back then his interest in the subject was obvious. Dave was a natural, crafting intricate clay bowls and other sculptures that you couldn’t help but admire in awe. And not only did he go above and beyond with his own projects, he also lent a hand to those that needed a little help (such as...myself.) He was a leader from a young age, but little did I know that years later he would take that passion and construct his greatest work yet.

Jason Burroughs, Facilities Manager & Art Haven teacher, checks in on a couple Easter Point Day School students during buoy painting 2015.

Jason Burroughs, Facilities Manager & Art Haven teacher, checks in on a couple Easter Point Day School students during buoy painting 2015.

In 2008, Dave founded Cape Ann Art Haven, a nonprofit community space where artists of all ages and abilities are encouraged to develop creativity and confidence through hands on learning and collaboration. If you are even remotely interested in exploring the arts, no matter the medium, I can almost guarantee that one of their many volunteers teach a class to suit your needs. From painting and drawing to photography and pottery, Cape Ann Art Haven has experienced a vast expansion in programming since opening their doors on Main Street in Gloucester. So much so, that in 2012, a sister space around the corner called The Hive was born. It’s a creative community center geared towards high school and adult students that boasts a digital graphics lab, silkscreen studio and fashion department. And despite this rapid growth, most people still don’t even know who Dave is, which seems to be by design. He’s constantly dodging the limelight while making big moves behind the scenes, but it’s hard to deny he's built a staple in the Cape Ann community that is stronger than ever and destined to stand the test of time.

Each December, he rounds up dozens of volunteers and magically acquires hundreds of traps from local fishermen to be used for building the lobster trap tree. Which is no easy task, especially when you consider for the last few years, the summit has climbed higher in the sky to accommodate the rising number of buoys that are painted by the kickass youth in our community. This year it stood nearly fifty feet above street level, and there still wasn’t enough room to string all seven-hundred and forty buoys, which shattered last year’s tally. But you can only stack traps so high, and once the tree is the size of a small building and requires a firefighter to climb up Ladder 1 and perch the star at it’s peak, that's probably a good place to stop.

David Brooks hangs buoys on the lobster trap tree.

David Brooks hangs buoys on the lobster trap tree.

So the day of the build, Dave called an audible and proposed the genius idea of adding two doors to the tree for the first time ever, providing room for buoys to hang gracefully from the inside as well and for people to be able pass through the structure. Each version of the tree seems to get bigger and better, and while I’m not sure how many more improvements can be made, I’m guessing this feature will be a mainstay for years to come. Also, the fact this was a problem in the first place really puts things in perspective.


My goal for this project was to provide an in-depth look at the entire process from beginning to end and highlight what makes this place so special. I think it’s safe to say an event like this is not normal, and I mean that in the best way possible. Just stop and really think about it for a second: seven-hundred and forty buoys were painted, and all of the money raised at the auction will allow Cape Ann Art Haven to continue providing art education for students of all ages. This event stands out to me because it’s a fusion of fishing and art, which are the two pillars Gloucester’s rich history was built upon, and the execution is just beautiful. So I hope you enjoy the piece, and thanks so much for reading.