Friday, November 27, 2015

Abbe Museum Coming Home Gallery Guide

One of my must visit places when I eventually get to Maine is the Abbe Museum in Bar Harbor. Over the years, it has had very informative displays and events showcasing the Wabanaki canoe culture. One of their 2015 exhibits (set to close on December 19th) is Coming Home. The museum was able to borrow various Wabanaki items from various ethnological collections residing outside of Maine.

One of the beautiful paddles on loan for their display is a very interesting paddle from the American Museum of Natural History:

 Catalog No: 50.1/ 7780
Dimensions: L:127.5 W:13 [in CM]
Accession No: 1914-4

I've always been curious about this paddle. The surface has weathered into what looks to be a greyish layer and the grip has very unique carvings right through the wood. Another different element is the paddle's length - a very short 127.5cm (roughly 50 inches). I always thought my paddles (58") were short in comparison to other traditional paddles that generally reach the 70+ inch mark.

Well, the Abbe has partially answered these questions with their Coming Home Gallery Guide available for download in pdf format (link HERE). I found it very generous of the museum to make this available to the public. It does an outstanding job putting the objects of the exhibit into context and describe their cultural significance. Wish more museums would do this.

Pages 22-23 of the document feature some additional photos of the paddle being analyzed along with some interesting finds. Examinations with microscopic and chemical analyses revealed that the paddle had two layers of paint and was originally a green color.  The base layer pigment was made from a green sedimentary rock which formed at the bottom of an ancient seabed. Later it seems, the paddle was repainted with a commercial paint as specks of blue, yellow and white pigments were found.

Also interesting is that despite the paddle's ornate decoration and small size, it was not just a souvenir. The Museum experts concluded that peeling paint on the blade along with a waxy coating detected on the handle are consistent with with other paddles which were known to have been used.

The document also features two additional closeup photos of the blade and handle revealing faint double curve motifs and etchings, not fully apparent in the AMNH's stock collection photo.

Thank you Abbe Museum for making this document available for download and sharing some  wonderful descriptive detail for those of us fascinated by Wabanaki canoe and paddle culture!

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