Brad Matsen

Brad Matsen


AUTHOR BRAD MATSEN has gone to great lengths to find stories.

He trekked through France to discover Jacques Cousteau’s Calypso rotting at a dock while researching his 2010 book, Jacques Cousteau: The Sea King.

He spent two months in the Belfast, Ireland, shipyards to document Titanic’s Last Secrets, a 2008 best-seller that raised new theories on the cause of the famous 1912 disaster.

He flew to Bermuda to research Descent, the story of William Beebe and Otis Barton, who in 1934 set a deep-sea-diving record —more than a half-mile — in a bathysphere Barton designed.

Now, he is helping young writers search for stories on local shores.

Matsen, who moved to Port Townsend a year and half ago, will be one of the leaders of Out of the Box Arts Camp next week in Port Townsend.

Open to fifth- through ninth-graders, the camp offers a journey into the natural world, using story-telling, art and music.

“The quest is not only about finding the story but also about all the forms the story can take,” Matsen said.

Matsen’s team includes Jesse Watson, a best-selling book illustrator, and sculptor Thaddeus Jurczynski, whose articulated creatures have appeared in parades from Seattle to Taiwan.

Guitarist Ahmad Baabahar will add rhythm and blues, along with folk tunes.

Based at Jefferson Community School, the day camp is orchestrated by Julie Marston, a certified gifted teacher who founded O2TB four years ago to provide a creative experience designed to stimulate artistic expression.

“The second year, we actually gave each camper a box, and they made things” that came in it, she said.

The camp will start with Matsen casting a story line, then inviting participants to focus on a natural object, find a story path and follow it.

Matsen will also lead a story-gathering excursion Tuesday morning. Jurczynski will show students how to cast life masks of themselves. Students can use papier-mache or clay to add features such as animal ears or a bird’s beak.

“You start out with who you are,” Jurczynski said. “You turn it into what you want to become.”

Matsen got involved in the camp through Marston, whom he met through sculptor Tom Jay of Chimacum.

Matsen and Jay worked on a book of essays about salmon, Reaching Home, in the 1990s. The collaboration was set up by Marlene Blessing, a Seattle book publisher, who also introduced Matsen to Ray Troll, an illustrator known for his humorous art.

Matsen, who was living in Seattle, collaborated with Troll, of Ketchikan, Alaska, on such books as Shocking Fish Tales and Planet Ocean: A Story of Life, the Sea and Dancing to the Fossil Record.

Originally from Bridgeport, Conn., Matsen worked on Alaskan ferries when he was 19. He served in the Marine Corps, earned a Master of Fine Arts from the University of California/Irvine and, at age 55, joined the Peace Corps.

His book Descent was a finalist for the 2005 Los Angeles Book Award. Matsen’s daughter, Laara Matsen, later found Barton’s bathysphere rusting under a roller coaster at Coney Island.

It is now on display at the New York Aquarium.

Being curious about the world is what being a writer is all about, Matsen said. And focusing on nature is one way to bring out that curiosity.

“There are a lot of hidden things there,” Matsen said, “and that’s the key to the imagination.”

Out of the Box Arts Camp is Monday through Friday, July 20, 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. each day. Tuition is $200.

Jefferson Community School is at 280 Quincy St., across from Memorial Field in Port Townsend. To register, phone 360-531-0143 or email

Jennifer Jackson writes about Port Townsend and Jefferson County every Wednesday. To contact her with items for this column, phone 360-379-5688 or email

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