New Book: ‘The Handcrafted Life of Dick Proenneke’

Dick Proenneke looking down Glacier Canyon toward Twin Lakes. Developed May 1984. Photo courtesy of the U.S. National Park Service

We are pleased to announce that we’re working on a new book about Dick Proenneke who lived alone in the wild Alaskan wilderness for 31 years. You may know Proenneke as the subject of four PBS documentaries that have fascinated many, including “Alone in the Wilderness” and “Alone in the Wilderness Part II” (all Bob Swerer Productions).

Dick Proenneke looking out the double Dutch door of his cabin.
Photo courtesy of the U.S. National Park Service
Monroe Robinson and K. Schubeck, caretakers of Dick Proenneke’s cabin.
Photo by Ree Slocum

Author Monroe Robinson, a woodworker and log restoration specialist who, along with his wife, K. Schubeck, has been involved with all the work of maintaining Proenneke’s cabin for the past 19 years, is currently sorting through hundreds of photographs and building some replicas of Proenneke’s hand tools for illustration.

The lifestyle of Proenneke reminds me of Henry David Thoreau on steroids. The lulling-yet-captivating films remind me of a mash-up of Bob Ross, “Planet Earth” and “Primitive Technology”. And the deep exploration of Proenneke’s handcrafted life reminds me of Joshua Klein’s “Hands Employed Aright”.

To say we’re thrilled about this project is an understatement.

Dick Proenneke. Date unknown. Photo courtesy of the U.S. National Park Service

May 21, 1968, Proenneke traveled to Twin Lakes, Alaska, at the age of 52. He had spent the year prior scouting a site for a cabin and cutting logs in preparation to build a cabin the following year. And he did build his cabin, by himself, using only hand tools. He also built all his own furniture, a cache to store his food and many of the hand tools he used.

Proenneke ended up living in his 11- x 15-foot cabin, alone (although, perhaps, alone is not the right word as he found great company in nature), for 31 years, only occasionally leaving to visit family. He kept detailed journals and documented his life on film while maintaining his cabin, hiking up to 35 miles in a single day and working closely with the U.S. National Park Service.

Chelsea, Monroe Robinson (who was working on the cabin) and Dick Proenneke, during Dick’s last visit to Twin Lakes in 2000. “After looking at the copper end caps I’d installed to protect the exposed roof logs, he looked back to me with an approving nod,” Monroe says. Photo by K. Schubeck

Proenneke left Twin Lakes in 1999 at the age of 82. He died in 2003. He donated his cabin to the U.S. National Park Service, and it’s now part of Lake Clark National Park.

Monroe Robinson replicating Dick Proenneke’s sled. Photo by K. Schubeck

While a handful of books have been written about Proenneke and his life, none focus solely on his use of hand tools and only materials found in the wilderness. Monroe has taken an in-depth look at how Proenneke used the things he made and sought to repair instead of replace.

“Dick lived a full and challenging life while limiting his consumption of today’s material possessions,” Robinson says. “It is an invitation, an inspiration, to feel the joyous wonder of making what one needs with simple tools and materials around you.”

We hope to have this book available early 2020.

— Kara Gebhart Uhl

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33 Responses to New Book: ‘The Handcrafted Life of Dick Proenneke’

  1. James says:

    It seems Dick Proenneke is a hero to anyone who knows of him and his life.

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  2. Mark Thomas says:

    Dick Proenneke has been personal hero ever since the PBS specials. I’m looking forward to this book.

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  3. John Hippe says:

    Wow! Another fantastic book in the line-up. Can’t wait for this one.

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  4. nrhiller says:

    This is SO exciting. My husband introduced me to this guy, and we have been mega-fans. What a perfect subject for Lost Art Press.

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  5. shasebroocknebrrcom says:

    Wow, this is awesome. I have everything about him and this will definitely be added to the collection! I agree a perfect subject for Lost Art Press!

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  6. davidbignell says:

    Wow, I am totally speechless and excited about this book. I have read the books and documentaries and have been amazed at what he was able to build and how he chose to live. I will pw-order today!

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  7. Matt says:

    YES! Will be very excited to pick this up. Books like My Side of the Mountain and Hatchet captured my mind when I was young and when I discovered D P’s videos when I was in my early 20s I felt immersed in his environment and was just happy. Can’t wait to read and see more.

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  8. toolnut says:

    Very cool. Looking forward to it. Also check out “One Man’s Wildeness – An Alaskan Odyssey” by Sam Keith and Richard Proeneke. it’s basically Dick’s journal entries for the first year of the cabin and first winter put together by Sam who was his friend and coworker. It is a companion to the film but with more detail. (As a bonus it, along with the film, will also help you figure out the lock mechanism on the door. )

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  9. Jim Chitko says:

    Wold love to have. Have followed Dicks adventures for many years

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  10. johncashman73 says:

    I am SO EXCITED!!! TAKE MY MONEY!

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  11. Ryder says:

    This. Is. Awesome.

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  12. Steve Jones says:

    Can’t wait! Great news.

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  13. LarryBarrett says:

    LAP is the perfect place for this book. I’m looking forward to this one.

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  14. Monroe Robinson says:

    I agree, Lost Art Press is a perfect match.

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  15. Mike Roberts says:

    I’m looking forward to getting your book when it is released as I have all his DVDs and all the other books. Thank you so much for making his legacy go on. Mike Roberts

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  16. Pascal Teste says:

    Excellent! I’ve watched the PBS docs multiple times, what a fascinating character. Looking forward to reading the book!

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  17. K says:

    Oh my gosh oh my gosh oh my gosh!

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  18. J.C. aka BLZeebub says:

    That ROCKS!!! I’ve been enamored of Mr. Proenneke’s accomplishments since discovering the doco’s of his time in the wilderness. The missus thinks he was “off his rocker” to which I rebutted that if it were so it would have been a rocker of his own making and he would have amended it to prevent further mishap. Awesome sauce, can’t wait.

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  19. David says:

    This is stupendous news. His videos are mesmerizing, fascinating, and inspiring. I’ll be buying multiple copies of this book for friends and family.

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  20. Michael Mavodones says:

    Big fan of Dick Proenneke forever. Friends and relatives who have been coerced into watching the DVDs multiple times will wonder who keeps enabling me.
    Thanks (Again) for doing what you do.

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  21. David says:

    I suspect this will be the best selling book ever published by Lost Art Press.

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    • I absolutely agree. I see random people on the internet all the time outside of the regular sphere of influence that love him.

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      • David says:

        Watching Proenneke make those door hinges with an axe, auger, saw, and plane was jaw-droppingly impressive. I own the DVDs and I watch them regularly. I see new things each time I do.

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        • The fact that he did what he did is the part that gets all of the attention, but honestly the best part and the most difficult was documenting it all.

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        • Monroe Robinson says:

          I agree with your impression of watching Dick construct hinges with an axe. Despite the fit looking beautiful on the film one would think the parts of the hinge must fit rather loosely. That is not the case. All of the bearing surfaces fit, with no high and low spots to wear a hinge out prematurely. Dick’s journal tell of him wrapping a pin with gas can metal to take up the ware and I have done the same a little more extensively. His Dutch door still swings perfectly.

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  22. Justin says:

    Some of my favorite things, L.A.P. Books and Dick Proenneke. If we could get Roy to write a chapter in this book you could probably just retire.

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  23. Dan W says:

    In all fairness, Henry David Thoreau was a veritable piker when compared to Mr. Proenneke.

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  24. Bobby Blizzard says:

    This made my day! I have thoroughly enjoyed reading all of the other books regarding Dick Proenneke but the woodworking in me is beyond excited.

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  25. Gary Bergeron says:

    He, Dick, and my grandfather, also dick, ispired my first real woodworking project. A log cabin in the woods. Great new project lap

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  26. Paul Straka says:

    I have watched Alone in the Wilderness dozens of times at the behest of my daughters, 5 and 8. Can’t wait to read this book with my girls.

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    • Monroe Robinson says:

      One of my very fond memories of being at Dick’s cabin was being with a boy and his dad. Five year old Oscar knew everything about Dick. I was actually looking for something that he didn’t know. I kneeled down holding a piece of wood and asked Oscar if he knew what it was? Oscar said, “Its the handle for his auger.” So Oscar knew this to be Dick’s handcrafted handle for his auger bits. I was impressed.

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