Apart from the structural role, the headboards have another practical aspect in the canoe's construction...to hide the end stitching and stem structures from view while paddling. Often the headboard is decorated with etchings or paint that have symbolic imagery meaningful to the paddler. A caption from James Dina's Voyage of the Ant describes his headboard decoration as follows:
"The headboard is a vertical piece of wood that encloses the open space where the canoe's gunwales sweep upward to meet the stem piece. Its position is such that the canoeist's gaze falls naturally upon it as he propels his craft. It is the last visual symbol between himself and the waters beyond. As such, it is properly decorated with a figure that holds special meaning. I had searched in vain for a design. Then I considered the temperament required of a traveler about to undertake a strenuous yet monotonous voyage upstream against current and wind. Without hesitation, the Ant suggested himself. He is a patient, tireless worker who keeps his eye on the immediate duty without losing sight of a distant goal. With my stone knife I etched a nameless ant on the headboard, hoping he would be up to the tasks ahead. "
Personally, I've always been attracted to birding imagery, so thought I would extend some of my paddle artwork to these pieces. For the bow headboard, I chose a Great Blue Heron wading through some reeds and for the stern a Barred Owl watching my back. Both of these birds are quite visible and local to my paddling area.
Heron & Barred Owl Headboards
Cedar isn't a very good wood for shading detail in pyrography. Far too soft and open grained with the natural oils interfering with consistent shading, but I'm still happy with the way these turned out. Along with my Moose & Bear decorated centre thwart, the whole canoe should have a nice woodlands feel. This isn't the first time I've seen a pyrography decorated headboard. A while back I came across a pic on Flickr showing a silouetted wolf burn. All the parts are slowly coming together, now I just need some co-operation from mother nature for warmer temperatures to start bending ribs!