Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Poplar Nootka Raven Paddle

Even though traditional canoeing in my area of Canada evolved for the many inland lakes and rivers in the region, I've also been interested in the large ocean-going, cedar dugout canoes of the North West coast. The Indigenous Peoples of the this Region carved amazing, exotic shaped paddles from the prevalent cedars found in that part of the country.

Warren's Canoe Paddles book has a outline sketch of one particular North West coast paddle made from the Nootka People, more correctly known as the Nuu chah nulth. It is a peculiar in that it has a large area, sweeping blade that ends in a protruding tip and a long, flattened shaft region with roll-style grip. The few online versions I've been able to find are high end artworks decorated in the amazing style of the region. On the right is an example I found on the Inuit Gallery of Vancouver website (Scroll down in the Northwest Sculpture section to find it). The paddles details:

Eagle Design Paddle
by Morris Sutherland
Nuu chah nulth
Carved paddle of yellow cedar and abalone
65" x 7" x 1.5"

What a beauty! Upon doing some more research, I found out that "yellow cedar" is not a true cedar at all, but a member of the cypress family. It's other common name, Nootka Cypress, and latin name Callitropsis nootkatensis, are named in honour of the Nootka people. My local supplier didn't carry it and finding quality (non constuction grade) Western Red Cedar was also challenging. In the end, I thought I would use another "yellow" wood that is also not a member of the tree family its name implies...Yellow Poplar (Liriodendron tulipifera), a member of the Tulip family and apparently not a true poplar at all.

This is another paddle in which I never took any pictures of the carving process (done up at the cottage over a sunny weeklong holiday in the summer). It also contained what I perceived as my first major error in paddlemaking. While sawing out the blank, I cut too deep into the shaft area, resulting in an extremely narrow (less than 1") throat area. My only consolation is that cedar & cypress wood are quite soft requiring thicker shafts, but Yellow Poplar is a hardwood that could probably withstand this error if used lightly. A roll style grip was carved (similar to the Cherry Fusion Paddle) but it was left protuding much more than other Nootka paddles I had seen. This was done for my own preference of a larger grip area. I took it out for a test run on the lake in order to wet the grain before final sanding and even though it was meant for ocean-worthy dugouts, I found the shape and style conducive to solo style paddling in a smaller canoe.

As for decorating, I wanted to maintain the native decor and ideally burn a Raven image, seemingly appropriate for this work. Months went by before any suitable idea could be found. On my last visit to Canadian Canoe Museum in the fall of 2007 (can't get enough of that place), I took a shot of some Haida paddles on display with a dugout canoe. I really liked the 2nd paddle from the top, an elongated raven image.

A few days later, I was reading a back issue Canoe Roots magazine (Fall 2006), where there was an article discussing Kirk Wipper's history of collecting canoes that ultimately formed the basis of the museum today. In it was pic of a Haida canoe with an identical Raven image painted on the bow. Check out the specific page on the online archive here. So I burned this image, flipping the orientation so that the "beak" of the bird pointed towards the tip while adding some extra background markings on the blade. By burning at high temperature, the wood was charred almost black, nearly mimicking the effect painting with black acrylic. Here are the results:

Haida Raven on the Blade

My interpretation of a Nuu chah nulth Paddle

Yellow Poplar doesn't have the rot-resistant properties of cedars / cypresses, so this paddle will need to be varnished before use, but I haven't done that yet and am debating of leaving it as as another wallmounted showpiece


sprague said...

Beautiful work!! I am jim and I, along with my tipi brothers, will be carving our first paddles this Memorial Weekend ('08). We together have built a two room cabin and a large tipi on the banks of the Sprague River in Oregon. WE canoe and kayak this remote river and we look forward to adding canoe paddle carving to our activities. Thank you for your inspiration!!

Murat said...

Thanks Jim! I'd love to see some pics of both your trip on the Sprague and the finished paddles. If you've already built a cabin then a couple of water sticks should be no problem. Have fun!

Anonymous said...

these are the best examples of carved paddles i have seen in years. Over the years i have carved two.....they never saw water thought....they turned into wall mountinngs!! lol. This winter i am going to carve a couple more that WILL see water. I came across your website by looking for different native patterns for paddles. Boy did i find the right site. The art work that you have put onto your paddles is incredible.
I have canoed some very remote areas of north western Canada over the years. My most memorable was paddleing over 500kms of the McKenzie River and approximately 300kms of the Beaufort Sea. During these journeys i wished i had my "own" paddle.
Thanks for sharing your work!


Murat said...

Thanks for compliments Antonio! It's my pleasure to share stuff. I'm no expert on native paddles, but the readings I mention on the site have many native designs that you can draw inspiration from or replicate.

Paddling the Mackenzie to the Beaufort sounds incredible...a real hardcore trip. If you've got online pics anywhere, I'd love to see them!

In the meantime have fun carving!


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