Thursday, February 11, 2016

Cree Cultural Institute - Crooked Knife

Another beautiful artifact in the Aanischaaukamikw Cree Cultural Institute online exibit is a beautiful looking crooked knife with an fiddle head handle. The webpage features a little artifact applet that lets you rotate the image to get a 360 degree view. Here are some screenshots.

Cree Crooked Knife
Aanischaaukamikw Cree Cultural Institute

The page also has a quote by canoe builder John Kawapit that highlights the importance of this critical tool...

"In the past they used a rock or bone to make a crooked knife but today we use metal. A file that is worn out and unusable is what we use. We put it in the fire so that the threads melt off, and then we hammer it and mould it into a crooked knife. When it’s heated, we bend it. As it heats some more and becomes white-hot, we put it in cold water, and it hardens.… I’ve heard it said that of all their belongings, the snowshoes were held in the highest regard because they created mobility in the winter, and in the summer, the canoe was the same. But I think the crooked knife is the most important because you use a crooked knife to make canoes and snowshoes!"
– Job Kawapit, Whapmagoostui

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Bark Canoes and Skin Boats -

Bark Canoes and Skin Boats of North America by Adney and Chapelle is now out of copyright and has been converted into various e-versions by the good folks at Unlike a many other sites that use text recognition software to render into electronic forms (resulting in plenty of formatting and text errors), the ones on Gutenberg are prepared and edited with real eyes. This version even has all the wonderful illustrations and photos of the hard copy, although at a lower resolution and size.

Here are the links to the page where you can view online in your browser or download the epub or kindle versions. Of course, this book has been instrumental in my own paddle making journey. Many of the paddles illustrated in the book have been starting points for replicas carved over the years. Here are just a few of the wonderful illustrations...

Being a fan of print books, I'm still very happy having a hard cover version. If anyone is interested in getting a hardcopy, consider ordering from the Wooden Canoe Heritage Association bookstore. For a long time, they were one of the few sources you could obtain the book long after it went out of print.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Historic Paddle Illustration - New Frederick Verner Paintings - Indians Fog Bound

Found some more images of the artwork of Frederick Verner. Pevious posts here revealed that Verner illustrated some basic chevron style markings on his paintings of First Nation canoe paddles. This artwork below is entitled, Indians, Fog Bound and features some red markings on the ends of the canoe as well as the paddle blades.

Indians, Fog Bound
Frederick Verner, 1905
Masters Gallery, Vancouver

Stern Paddle Closeup

More decorations on these paddles

A earlier piece -  Misty Morning, Indians Crossing a Lake  - dated to 1896 features a similar pose showing that Verner re-used his subject matter and paddle decorations. Turns out this piece of Canadian art also fetched over the estimate at a recent auction.

Misty Morning, Indians Crossing a Lake
Frederick A. Verner 
watercolour on paper
signed and dated 1896 and on verso titled and inscribed "For R. Aldridge" and variously
12 1/2 x 24 1/2 in 31.7 x 62.2cm
Provenance:  R. Aldridge - Private Collection, Vancouver
Estimate: $7,000 ~ $9,000 CAD
Sold For: $10,620.00 CAD (including buyer's premium)

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Shou-sugi-ban decorated paddles

Online paddlemaking friends, David G and Luke M have both attempted to decorate their handmade paddles with an interesting burning technique known as shou-sugi-ban. This traditional Japanese method of preservation was originally developed for use with cedar cladding on houses. Claims are that it can add another hundred years onto the longevity of the wood. Luke heard about the technique from another remarkable craftsman in the US, Nick Dillingham of Black Thunder Studios, who modified the technique to finish some of his remarkable crooked knife handles.

David and Luke were kind enough to send me emails about their experiences with this finishing method to share with the blog readers.

First, the paddle surface is scorched with a propane torch until completely black. After this burning period, the wood is scrubbed vigorously with an abrasive. Luke and David used  some Scotch-Brite(TM) pads to remove uneven remnants of the charred wood.  The complete surface burning / charring process obviously blackens the surface but if done properly, it still allows the grain pattern to peek through.  

Here are some shots of David's Sitka spruce paddle with reinforced ash tip. It's 56" long with a 26" by 5" wide blade. It only weighs 14 oz and has some etchings on the grip. Look at the beautiful contrast against that fresh Yukon snow!

David G's shou-sugi-ban Sitka Spruce paddle
Au Nord du Nord Woodwork 

The etchings reveal the lighter coloured wood below the charred surface, something known as negative pyrography in the woodburning art world. I've always had to resort to using a tiny electric pen to burn the backspace, so this technique is intriguing to me. Burn everything first and then reverse etch.

Grip etchings
Au Nord du Nord Woodwork 

David also uploaded a photo closeup of the blade's near perfectly straight grain. The paddle has not yet been oiled but David's great job with the burning makes it look like a pretty wood stain.

Sitka grain pattern
Au Nord du Nord Woodwork 

Over on the other side of the world, Luke made a paddle from fresh ash - a narrow bladed Maliseet style paddle to go with his nearly complete Maliseet ocean canvas canoe.

Luke M's shou-sugi-ban decorated Maliseet paddle

The grip area has been chip-carved after the burning resulting in a pretty reverse effect...

Luke's chip carving along the grip edge

Luke's chip carving along the grip edge
Facebook Album Link

Luke provided some additional details about his methodology. After scrubbing, the paddle was lightly sanded with 320 grit sandpaper -  the amount of sanding determines the darkness of the final product. He then carefully burnished the wood heavily with a piece of polished antler for that natural shine. The paddle isn't oiled despite that wonderful looking finish.

Luke mentioned a challenge with burnishing which resulted in some random patchiness despite careful efforts to burn and sand evenly. This is to be expected with any type of handcrafted work, but any "flaws" aren't visible to my eyes and the paddle look brilliant.

But as a warning to others who might try this method, he also wrote that the paddle blade started warping during the burning phase and notes that if both sides are burned evenly, the blade tended to straighten out. I found this very relevant as my intention was to try this out only on one side of a future paddle.

Thanks again to David and Luke for continuing to experiment with their paddle creations and share them with loyal readers of this blog.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Historic Paddle Illustration: Frances Ann Hopkins - Explorer's Camp

I've previously posted about the famous voyageur paintings of Frances Ann Hopkins which clearly illustrate the decorative styles of paddles used by these hardy canoemen. Here's another painting entitled "The Explorer's Camp" dated to circa 1891.

The Explorer's Camp
Accession Number: 952.168.1
Painter: Frances Ann Hopkins
Physical Dimensions: w31.1 x h27.8 cm
Provenance:Sigmund Samuel Collection
Type: Painting
Medium: watercolour on wove paper
Royal Ontario Museum - Google Cultural Institute Link 

A closeup of the paddles reveal the commonly used bright red paint on the narrow blades...

Paddle Closeups

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