Keith E. Felder was born in Denham Springs, LA and has lived there all his life. He has always been interested in the traditional wooden boats of south Louisiana. He attended “Traditional Wooden Boat Building School” at Nichols State University in 1999 with instructor Kenny Hebert. Then he sought other “master” wooden boat builders. Mr. Raymond Sedotal taught him to build swamp and marsh pirogues and Creole rowing skiffs. Rodney Cheramie taught him to build the Lafitte skiff and marsh pirogue. Tom Colvin taught him to build the Atchfalaya Basin Boat.
Keith has mastered the skills needed to build each of these wooden boats. His boats have been exhibited at boat shows, art galleries, festivals, school activities, and church activities. They have been used in commercials, movies, and documentaries. He has been featured on Tumey’s Travels, Chef John Folse’s television shows and in several newspapers in Louisiana. In the past, he received grants from the Louisiana Division of the Arts and the Cultural Economy Foundation of Louisiana. He has several pirogues and dugouts on display in the local Bass Pro shop.
In 2009, Keith established a small publishing company. He wrote and published a book entitled “The Dugout- Create a Treasure from the Past”. His next project will be a book on how to build a pirogue. “The Dugout” is in all libraries in East Baton Rouge, the Louisiana State Library, Livingston Parish libraries and many private libraries.
His dugouts are hand carved from sinker cypress logs he retrieved from the waterways of south Louisiana. Many of the tools are vintage or hand made by him. Some of the logs are sawed into planks and used for the pirogues and skiffs.
In 2006, he was awarded a fellowship from the Louisiana Division of the arts and was recognized at the Governors Arts Award Program at the Shaw Center.
Keith’s traditional wooden boats of south Louisiana are functional and beautiful. He feels that it is important to preserve this history and to share it with others.
LSU Rural Life Museum Harvest Days in October and Christmas Celebration each December: Keith has exhibited in these two activities for the last 10 years and will continue to do so.
Keith exhibited in the Madisonville Wooden Boat Festival from 2003 to 2006. He always placed first in his boat category. He still attends but only displays his putt-putt boat with vintage marine engine built in Louisiana in the late 1930s.
He has attended a festival at Calvert Marine Museum on Solomon Island, Maryland each year since 2012. He takes his collection of vintage marine engines, framed wooden boat photos and notebooks on traditional wooden boats of south Louisiana. He has also attended the activities at Lutcher, LA and Patterson, LA for many years. He continues to go back each year with traditional wooden boats and vintage marine engines.
A hand carved dugout was returned this year. It traveled with a South Arts exhibit for 5 years. The dugout was exhibited at galleries in places such as Atlanta, Georgia; Louisiana Arts and Science Museum in Baton Rouge; Birmingham, Alabama; Pensacola, Florida, etc.
Small pirogues for serving food are in 4 Copeland restuarants in the south and in many private homes. A small pirogue for serving is maintained for loaning to the city and local organizations for various functions.
A pirogue is on display at the Food and Beverage Museum in New Orleans.
A hand carved dugout is on permanent display in the entrance to the new Bass Pro store in Denham Springs. They also have 4 pirogues and another dugout that they use to display merchandise. Several photos of Keith in his dugouts on the bayous of south Louisiana are also on display.
He exhibits in the art shows at the Arts Council of Livingston Parish Gallery in Denham Springs each year. This past summer the show was entitled “Just by Men”.
In April of 2014, he donated a hand carved, cypress dough bowl to Arts Council of Livingston Parish fundraiser “Art’s on the Bayou”.
Keith continues to work in his shop Monday through Friday building pirogues from sinker cypress and carving dugouts from sinker cypress logs he retrieved from the rivers and bayous of south Louisiana. He speaks to local groups to preserve and pass on the information about the building of these traditional wooden boats. He travels around to many festivals displaying his boats and posters he created with pictures of the process from retrieval of the sinker cypress to the launching of the boat. He maintains a website for his dugouts, pirogues and wooden boats.