SOUTH THOMASTON - Benjamin Frederick Meltzer, died on Sunday, January 24th at Northern Lights Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor, Maine, after a month of hospitalization. Ben was 55 years old.
Ben was born July 7th, 1965 and grew up in Brooklyn, New York. He was named for his two grandfathers, one a Maine lobsterman and mechanic, the other an entrepreneur with a jukebox business and an interesting story: he had walked many hundreds of miles across Eastern Europe, from Minsk to the port of Bremerhaven, Germany as a 5-year-old, with his family, on the way to America in 1900. Ben was proud of having a heritage, an upbringing, and a skill set that included equal parts rural Maine and ungentrified, “old-school” Brooklyn.
Attracted to both art and carpentry as a child, Ben built things like rudimentary furniture and memorably fast sidewalk go-karts out of packing crates and discarded lumber while in elementary school. After an introduction to the instrument in school he built his scrap-lumber version of a cello and strung it with telephone wire. Ben took up painting in acrylics, sculpture in clay (including creating, at age nine, a precisely detailed lobster boat with all the hardware from memory) and the construction of ornate wire sculptures such as dragons.
Ben attended Stuyvesant High School, a magnet school in New York City in the late 1970’s, but left before graduating to work in two boatyards in Thomaston, Maine. At Erik Lie-Nielsen’s yard, he was first exposed to the construction and launching of classic wooden vessels. Working next at the Newbert & Wallace yard, he became increasingly aware of the importance of young people learning specialized trades and arts from an older generation before such skills are lost. He often rode to work with an elder boatbuilder named Richard Dennison, from whom he learned a lot. He later worked for Spruce Head Marine.
Returning to New York he was hired at a marina in the Bronx near the city limits, supposedly because he knew how to run the TraveLift, which he learned from Scott Appleby at Spruce Head Marine. Ben become an exacting and demanding craftsman. Eventually his interest in quality carpentry led him to the residential building trades in that city, where he became a finishing carpenter doing a variety of specialty work. He worked for Constantine “Chicky” Lucas who became a good friend, mentor, and “unrelated uncle.”
Ben moved back and forth between Maine and New York a couple of times as an adult. He also made several trips to the western states, in banged-up old pickup trucks or riding his beloved black-and-white Moto-Guzzi motorcycle, sometimes to see friends, sometimes to work construction. He resided in Santa Fe, New Mexico for a short time, and was proud to have visited each of the contiguous 48 states.
Connected through a friend from Stuyvesant, Ben began doing computer graphics and digital photo-retouching work in New York City, learning a new industry and rising to a position with the major Madison Avenue advertising agency Young and Rubicam. His computer and graphic design skills were entirely self-taught. His work supposedly included such duties as removing double chins from celebrities in ad copy and “lowering the Queen of Jordan’s hemline in the press photo, at the request of the Jordanian Embassy.” In addition, Ben took on moonlighting work as a carpenter or as a handyman, including at his favorite restaurant, a place called “Sidewalk” on the Lower East Side where he had many friends.
On September 11, 2001, he witnessed the attack on the World Trade Center, which eroded his desire to remain in New York. He sold his brick house near the Bronx Zoo and moved back to Maine not long afterward. In recent years Ben had undertaken a lengthy writing project, composing a book of hundreds of limericks, each one emphasizing an especially interesting or uncommon English word.
An old friend of Ben’s wrote recently: “He was always a super-loyal friend and a stand-up guy for whom fairness and decency were paramount. I remember those wild metal monsters and dinosaurs he used to make. That's how I'll remember him-- creative, eccentric, and super-skilled. He was one of a kind, for sure.”
Ben is survived by his mother, Eleanore Batty Carpenter of South Thomaston; his father, Michael R. Meltzer of Queens, New York; his younger sister Anna Carpenter McEnulty of Mukilteo, Washington and her husband Cyric McEnulty; their children Aviendha, Lyra, and Dhovlen McEnulty; his older sister, Eve Murray of Matinicus Island, Maine and her husband Paul Murray; their children Eric Murray of Winooski, Vermont and Emily Murray of Portland, Maine; Anna’s father Douglas Carpenter of South Thomaston, Maine; numerous cousins including James Batty, Jr. of Warren, Maine; and friends Jacob and Jennie Ames of Cushing, Maine who had been like family to Ben.
An outdoor gathering to celebrate Ben’s life will be planned for warmer weather, probably in South Thomaston. In lieu of flowers, friends may wish to make a donation to South Thomaston Ambulance, or to one of the Maine boatbuilding schools such as the Apprenticeshop in Rockland, the Carpenter’s Boatshop in Pemaquid, or the Wooden Boat School in Brooklin, Maine.
Arrangements are in the care of Burpee, Carpenter & Hutchins Funeral Home, 110 Limerock Street, Rockland