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(1914 - 1995)
Like most people who live off the land, Vernie A. Gibson could do a little bit of everything, including shingle riving, tool making, and gourd carving. His major area of expertise, however, was the building of john boats and bateaux, as well as building webbing traps and hoop nets for catching catfish. Gibson, who was reared on a houseboat by his father Arthur and his mother Minnie on Catahoula Lake in LaSalle Parish, referred to himself as a “river rat.” Gibson once said, “I’ve lived on the river all my life. I learned how to make traps and boats about 50 years ago by watching and asking questions.”
His cage-like traps, which are usually baited with cheese, are fashioned from white oak and cypress. The intricate hoop nets are made with nylon. His boats are also made from wood, as his first boat was built “under the hill at Hannah’s landing out of good cypress.” Gibson once said, “In them metal boats you don’t have anything to hang on to. I prefer me a wooden boat.”
Living off the land for Gibson meant depending on the now fragile ecosystem of Catahoula Lake which is composed of marsh, open water, and a complex river system. The area is now somewhat diminished, but Gibson still had plenty of people who needed his traps, nets and work boats. He and his wife Annie were, “tied inextricably to the seasons and moods of the water,” Dayna Bowker Lee explains.
Gibson, like his father and grandfather, made his own traps and wove his own nets. He used them to fish from the lake in wooden work boats that he built himself. On many occasions, he discussed, among other things, the dwindling number of people left in Louisiana who can make the cage-like traps which are made from white oak and cypress or weave the nets used to snare catfish. To help carry on the tradition that he learned from his parents and grandparents, Gibson taught his craft to his children and grandchildren.
Gibson participated in many festivals, including the Pineville Catahoula Lake Festival, the New Orleans World Fair, the1985 American Folklife Festival in Washington, D.C., the Shreveport Red River Revel, the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, and the Natchitoches-NSU Folk Festival. Because of his amazing talents and representation of traditional folk crafts, Mr. Gibson was inducted into the Louisiana Hall of Master Folk Artists in 1987.
Updated December 7, 2016 by Natchitoches-NSU Louisiana Folklife Center Staff
Researched and Rewritten by Amber Hendricks and Samantha Sullivan