In 2019 Greg Fleming discovered a treasure in Renews, Newfoundland. It was hiding in plain sight.
Engineer by day and guitarist for life, Greg has strong roots in the community of Renews. The home of his maternal grandparents, the place is one where he has always found solace and fascination, a changing vista of rolling fields and jagged cliffs, crashing waves and peaceful seas. Defined by its contradictions, the quaint fishing town is a web of stories, its secrets shared and revealed across generations.
The fishery at Renews traces back to 1610, though tales of the town’s history indicate a presence long before then. A refuge for the pirate Peter Easton. A battery during the Napoleonic Wars. A trove of medieval Latin carvings. A place of shipwrecks.
Greg’s uncle, James Dunne, a local fisherman, and once Mayor of the Town, was involved in a project to install a commercial government fishing wharf in the community over 20 years ago. While dredging the ocean floor in Renews Harbour, large pieces of wood were recovered and set aside for disposal. A second look by James and his brother Doug told them the wood might be worth saving. Found in a deep pool beyond the reefs that guard the Harbour, they questioned the origins of the unique timbers. And, growing up with the mantra that wilful waste makes woeful want, the Dunne brothers dragged the wood to a meadow near their family home. The timbers would rest in that meadow for more than two decades.
Serendipity would intervene two years ago when Greg asked his uncle if he had a nice piece of wood for a guitar project he was planning. Those unique timbers, still waiting in the meadow, were gladly offered.
Upon getting the wood home and setting it outside to dry properly, Greg noticed a pattern in the various pieces, emerging as sections of a vessel with the appearance of ribs, floor beam and lapped joint with trunnels. Further investigation would reveal that these trunnels, or tree nails, were wooden dowels used in shipbuilding that predate structural steel.
To confirm his suspicions about the age of this material, Greg engaged the University of Ottawa, a leading Canadian institution in the area of carbon dating. Possible origin dates were calibrated at 1661 and 1730, with the strongest indicators pointing to the mid-1600s. The timbers were indeed a vessel that had sailed from Europe at least three hundred years ago.
When the wood was eventually split to determine the quality that lay within, the gem revealed itself. Beautiful and complex, saltwater infused, solid oak.
Shipwreck instruments was born.
Always a gifted builder, Greg’s training as an engineer and artistry as a musician have dovetailed perfectly on a project that has become his passion. What started as a hobbyist’s muse is now a dedication to create a limited line of legacy guitars, art that will create art and personify the spirit of their discovery.