Friday, May 18, 2018

Historic Paddle Illustrations - More Verner

Here are two more images of decorated paddles from prolific artist Frederick A. Verner (1838 - 1926).

Frederick A Verner
Indians in a Canoe

Frederick A Verner
Ojibwa Crossing Lake Nipissing with Cargo of Furs

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Circa 1860 "Delaware" Paddle Replica

Another replica chosen for its unique shape and decoration is based on the circa 1860 paddles briefly discussed in previous posts. Described originally as “A Pair of Painted Wood Oars, Probably Lorette-Huron.”, they first appeared in an auction catalog from 1998.

“A Pair of Painted Wood Oars, Probably Lorette-Huron.”
Important American Indian Art
Sotheby’s New York
May 19,1998, lot 726
Original Post Link

Later, they were being sold again and were further listed as maple paddles circa 1860s attributed to the Delaware (Lenape) tribe.

circa 1860 "Delaware" paddles

I finished carving out the design (based on the larger stern paddle) out of some basswood stock last fall. The poor quality color photo of the paddles illustrated a a rather simple decorative element with a dark, blackish tone next to a faded brown-red paint. An alternating series of dots rise up from the midpoint of the blade up to the thwart. I was just about to start painting when I came across on an advertisement in a back issue of American Indian Art Magazine (original post link). The blade on the left was a closeup of the shorter bow paddle easily identified with the drip marks on the black dots.

Ad from American Indian Art Magazine
Spring 2015, Volume 40, Issue 2

This better resolution image revealed that the maple wood had aged to brownish patina and that the reddish paint was a semi-transparent coat revealing some of the underlying grain pattern.

Given that basswood is a very light cream colour, a decision was made to stain the paddle using some of Minwax Gel Antique Stain. I also had some Tremclad Red paint left over from refurbishing the 14' Chestnut canoe so used this for the red decoration. Despite directions on the label not to thin the paint, I used a substantial amount of thinner to achieve the desired semi-transparent look. Instead of drilling the three holes in the handle, I simply burned three dots to mimic the effect. Here is the final result:

ca 1860 paddle replica

Similar to this earlier post of the Naskapi (Innu) paddle, I converted my image to greyscale graphic in order to compare with the original.

circa 1860 "Delaware" paddle and my reproduction 

Friday, April 27, 2018

WCHA Assembly

The 2018 Wooden Canoe Heritage Association Assembly is finally back in Canada this summer and will be in nearby Peterborough, Ontario  July 17-22. The theme for this year's Assembly is the iconic Chestnut Canoe Company. I'll be bringing by 14 foot Chesnut Playmate to get some feedback from the experts regarding a thorough restoration.

The full Pdf format files of the Schedule along with a listing of program descriptions are now online. Becky Mason will be there discussing her famous father's paddling legacy. Ken Buck, the camera man for Bill Mason's canoeing films will be discussing his behind-the-lens perspective.  Guide book author, Kevin Callan (of Happy Camper fame) will be leading a paddling tour of the nearby Indian River. In addition, Mike Elliot author of This Old Canoe will be here from the West Coast to discuss Chesnut canoe restoration.  Expert Canoe Historian, Dick Persson of Buckhorn Canoe Company will be revealing some of the more esoteric history of the Chesnut Canoe Company.

Saturday's schedule might be of specific interest for anyone curious about paddles. Graham Warren, whose books and videos on the subject of paddle making have been a major inspiration in my own paddle carving journey, will be making the journey from the U.K. University of Guelph Engineering Professor, John Runciman will be discussing his findings of research into traditional aboriginal paddle shapes and performance. Along with these two experts, I've been aksed to discuss historic paddle decoration to round out the theme.

As such, I've been slowly working on a portable paddle display to showcase some of the paddles featuring in historic artworks and museums. More on that in a future post...

Friday, April 20, 2018

Codex Canadensis Odawa Paddle Replica - Part 1

One of the earliest recorded images of decorated woodland canoe paddles is from the remarkably illustrated manuscript,  Codex canadensis. A previous post (from way back in 2008) mentioned that Collections Canada has a site setup to view all the illustrations in this piece of Canadian heritage.

For many years, the Codex canadensis was attributed to Charles Bécart de Grandville (1675-1703), but given more historical evidence, this attribution is no longer considered valid. The manuscript is now believed to have been by Louis Nicolas , a French missionary who spent 11 years in Canada during the late-seventeenth  century. The codex is illustrated with 180 drawings of First Nations peoples, plants, mammals, birds and fish of Canada.

The Art Canada Institute has a wonderfully illustrated, free online book about the Jesuit Missionary and discusses details of his artwork.

Most relevant is the realization that the author was never trained an an artist so he copied the outlines of his figures from other sources, a practice common at the time. However, Nicholas took great care to illustrate details of his own observations, such as body tattoos, hairstyles, clothing as well as as accessories such as as the tobacco pouches, weapons and most relevant to this site, canoes and paddles. It is these details that make it a relevant ethnographic source for the time period.

Nicolas made all his drawings in pen and ink  using a feather quill. The ink commonly used at the time was iron gall ink from iron salts and tannic acids from vegetable sources like oak. In its fresh state the ink had purple-black or brown-black colour, but over time, the the ink has taken on a warm nutty-brown shade. Some of the images were also carefully stained with a reddish watercolour.

Pages 15 to 18 of the manuscript contain the images of various tribal canoes and paddles.

 Page 15

 Page 15

Quite interesting is that Nicholas illustrated the canoes and paddles with some painted decorations. Gunnels on the canoes were stained red, a feature that is also present on many surviving model canoes from decades later, like the Neuchatel Model. Paddles were also enhanced with common red colour, easily available as either native ochre earth paints or as a trade item such as Vermillion powder.

Since Nicholas was never trained as a formal artist, the proportions of his illustrations are not to scale. The paddle blades are also crudely drawn and not symmetrical but it is interesting to note that nearly all of his drawings show no discernible grip end.

The paddle illustration I chose to replicate is depicted on Page 18 of the Codex canadensis. The upper canoe is labelled "Canot a loutaouase" - an Odawa (Ottawa) canoe. It has distinctly sharp ends along with various decorations on the hull. The paddle features a relatively broad, leaf-like blade with a tapering shaft ending in a pole grip.

Close-up of Fig. 23
Outaouase (Odawa) canoe and paddle

I have a short piece of basswood stock that seems perfect for this reproduction. More in another post...

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Historic Paddle Illustration: Encampment of Voyageurs

Another piece of artwork from Francis Anne Hopkins (1838-1919). This smaller watercolour clearly showcases the light blue coloured paddles standing out on the rocky shoreline.

Encampment of Voyageurs.  
Credit: Library and Archives Canada,
Acc. No. R9266-277
Peter Winkworth Collection of Canadiana
Copyright: Expired

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

McCord Museum 19th Century Eastern Woodlands Paddle Replica

Artifact M5470 at the McCord Museum is a beautifully decorated, 19th century paddle. It has been identified as "Eastern Woodlands" (either Passamaquoddy or Maliseet) and features an array of painted double-curve motifs as well as a divided black and white blade tip.

Paddle |  | M5470
Anonyme - Anonymous
Eastern Woodlands
Aboriginal: Maliseet or Passamaquoddy
1875-1900, 19th century
Wood, paint
11.4 x 150 cm
Gift of Mr. Hobart William Molson
© McCord Museum

Many years ago, I adapted the decorative pattern for a yellow birch paddle with a more narrow blade profile. This time I tried to be true to the original design and replicate with paint and stains despite painting not being my strong suit.

At 150cm (59 inches), the original paddle was already near to my preferred paddle length so adjustments weren't necessary. As before, I had a piece of Yellow Birch stock to use up. Yellow Birch can be unpredictable sometimes when carving or hewing with an axe. This piece went well except for a small bit of tear-out by the throat. As a consequence, I had to use a little bit of Quikwood Epoxy putty to fill in the tear, but most of the damage would eventually be covered by paint.

Epoxy putty repair to throat

I've been experimenting with painting using oil-based Tremclad paints which are available in smaller sample sizes.  Of course the modern formula isn't like traditional oil-based paints used in the 19th century and mixing up authentic batches is beyond my skill set. These rust paints flow thick and harden to a waterproof finish so the paddle can ultimately be oiled rather than varnished. I ended up using some Flat Black, Recreational White (a cream colour), Fire Red and a custom green made by mixing their Yellow with a dark blue spray paint I had on hand.

Painted blade

In addition,  the blade of the original paddle seems to have darkened compared to the shaft. To mimic this effect, I used Minwax Gel Stain (chestnut) after finishing the paint job.

McCord Replica Blade - stained

The shaft was left natural and the whole paddle oiled. Here is the final result...

McCord Museum 19th Century Replica 

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Historic Paddle Photo: Abbe Museum

Here is an old photo from the Facebook gallery of the Abbe Museum. The long paddle seems to have a tiny painted grip area while the rest of the wood has been left bare.

The photo was posted because the museum is asking for the public's assistance to locate the original photo in order scan for a new 2018 exhibit, Emergence: Root Clubs of Penobscot Nation. If you have any leads, contact Julia Gray, director of collections & research, at or 207-288-3519.

Friday, March 23, 2018

Neuchatel Canoe Model Paddle Replica

A few examples of North American native paddle designs exist in European museums today owing to a robust souvenir industry in the 18th century. Huron (Wendat), Mohawk. Algonquin and Abenaki converts from the Catholic mission villages along the Saint Lawrence River collaborated with local nuns to manufacture "tourist art". The First Nations women would work to make model bark canoes and other material accessories. Older traditions of wooden dollmaking were refined by the use of wax to model the faces. In turn, the nuns utilized their traditions of fine needlework and embroidery to make miniature clothing in the mixed European - Native style fashionable in the region at that time.

A few of these model canoes have been mentioned earlier on this site. The 1760 Chartres Canoe, the 1760 Farquharson model, the 1794 Rennes canoe and the Mashantucket Pequot model canoe. Each had decorated canoes with equally ornamented paddles.

Another canoe model dated to 1799 has a much more simple (and realistic) decorative elements. The model was acquired  by a Swiss tourist, Jeanne Elisabeth Gugy for the curio collection of an associate in her hometown, Count Charles de Meuron. It was eventually became part of the collection of the  Musée D'ethnographie de Neuchâtel.

Musee d'ethnographie. Neuchatel. Switzerland IV.A.30

The bark hull has been left plain and with the thwarts, gunnels, decks and upper stems painted in a red-brown earth paint. Two male figures and two female figures are seen the posed in the hull. A paddle is visible in the stern and has a simple checkered pattern of green, yellow, and red/brown paint.

Male Figurine with decorated paddle - before 1799 
Musee d'ethnographie. Neuchatel. Switzerland IV.A.30

Obscured by the sail is another figure also holding a decorated paddle - a narrow blade with elongated flattened grip and a simple blade decoration of chevrons and dots.

Female Figurine with decorated paddle - before 1799 
Musee d'ethnographie. Neuchatel. Switzerland IV.A.30

I decided to create large reproduction of the latter example. At the time, I had some basswood cutoffs and managed to laminate these waste pieces to create a short blank. In the end I ended up with a 53" paddle after extrapolating dimensions from this miniature model while trying to maintain the scale. The original had some sort of darkened paint on the long grip, but I had a hard time discerning the shade. In my version, I simply charred the surface with a propane torch and sanded smooth. The remaining blue and red paint on the blade had a very thinned, transparent look so an attempt was made to mimic this excessively thinning the oil-based Tremclad paints I have on hand. In keeping with the handpainted tradition of the original amateur artist, I just free handed the dots and chevron decorations

  Neuchatel model paddle replica 

Being a short paddle, I think this one will get minimal usage but it'll still be a neat experience using a 200+ year old design.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Pitt Rivers Museum: Woodlands Canoe Paddle circa 1858

Item number 1886.1.866 in the collection of the Pitt Rivers Museum is a "Woodlands" paddle dated to at least 1858.  The paddle is described as having a leaf-shaped blade and decoratively carved band on handle. 

Place details: N AMERICA. Canada. 
Cultural Group: NE ?Subarctic ?Woodlands E Algonquian
Dimensions: Max L = 1945 mm Max W of blade = 164 mm
When Collected: On or before 1858 Acquired: Transferred 17 February 1886
Source Link
 © Pitt Rivers Museum, University of Oxford

Both the blade shape and the slender, elongated handle with its indented grip face seem very similar to the circa 1849 Passamaquoddy paddle recently on display at the Peabody Museum (previous post here)

Grip of c1849 Passamaquoddy Paddle
Peabody Museum
Photo Courtesy of John Fitzgerald

I've begun to carve a similar paddle (out of yellow poplar stock) to replicate this design.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Paddle Article for Wooden Canoe

Special news to report. A short article regarding one of my historic replicas was published in the February issue of Wooden Canoe (Issue 205, Vol. 41 No.1). "Paddles from the Past" discusses the history behind the decorated steering paddle illustrated by H.R. Schoolcraft in his  1821 publication Narrative journal of travels through the northwestern regions of the United States...

Fig. 2 Schoolcraft's steering paddle
from Plate II - Indian Manufactures
Narrative journal of travels through the northwestern regions of the United States...
 Henry Rowe Schoolcraft

For anyone who might be interested, I've made the two page article available for viewing at this link here.

As an aside, the 2018 Wooden Canoe Heritage Association Assembly is finally back in Canada this summer and will be in nearby Peterborough, Ontario July 17-22. More on that in another post.  I've been scheduled to discuss historic paddle designs and decoration. The Schoolcraft reproduction will be there as part of a display.

Friday, March 9, 2018

Historic Paddle Illustarion: Robert Petley - Sketch of Halifax from Dartmouth

Another painting by Lieut. Robert Petley (1809-1869)  which prominently features a Mi'kmaq camp and paddle as well as a distinctive canoe in the background.

Sketch of Halifax from Dartmouth (with Mi'kmaq)
Petley, Robert
Latest Production Date: c 1834
Material: Watercolour on paper
Accession Number: 1980.62

Monday, March 5, 2018

Krieghoff 1848 Paddle Replica

Work has been progressing on a paddle replica based on the artwork of Cornelius Krieghoff. As mentioned in this previous post, Krieghoff made an oil in 1847 entitled " Aboriginal Camp in Lower Canada"  which featured a brightly coloured paddle blade with a chevron motif. 

Painting | Aboriginal Camp in Lower Canada | M19893
Aboriginal Camp in Lower Canada
Cornelius Krieghoff (1815-1872)
1847, 19th century
Source Link

Curiously, Krieghoff never painted a paddle shaft extending into the background which gives the image a bit of distorted look. Still, the vibrant colours on the blade make for a uniquely decorated paddle image. 

Paddle Blade Closeup

I'm not the first person to replicate this sort of decoration. Blog reader, Nigel, used this pattern to decorate the blade of his Edenwood Northwoods Paddle back in 2012 with lovely results.

Nigel's Decorated Blade

Nigel's Decorated Edenwood Paddle

In 1848, Krieghoff created another piece based on his original oil with some minor modifications. The image was retitled, " Indian Wigwam in Lower Canada" and was used to create a lithograph for publication. In Krieghoff's updated version, a decorated shaft and pronounced ball shaped grip are now in view. The artist also decided to reverse the chevron pattern on the blade so that the decorations are now "pointing" up towards the grip rather than down towards the blade tip. Many of these greyscale lithographs were subsequently hand coloured by other artists resulting in subtle variations of the decorative pattern. Those variations were discussed thoroughly in this post here.

For my version, a decision was made to decorate one side according to the dominant pattern found in my research - a repeating Red - Blue - Yellow pattern on one side, much like the version in the National Gallery of Canada.

Indian Wigwam in Lower Canada
Cornelius Krieghoff
Lithograph with watercolour on wove paper
National Gallery of Canada
Credit line: Gift of Donald Maclaren, Ottawa, 1990
Accession number: 30820

The carving photos were part of the extensive set lost on a damage memory card, but I was able to shape a small bobble grip and did my best to approximate the blade shape from the artwork. Painting has never been my strong suit, especially colour matching and mixing. In the end, I just used some Tremclad paints that were available in small sample sizes to capture the spirit of the original, gaudily decorated paddle.

Krieghoff Paddle Replica

On the alternate side, I decided to deviate a bit and follow the pattern found on the copy of the  Toronto Public Library Special Collections Archive

Indian Wigwam in Lower Canada (1848)
Creator: Cornelius Krieghoff, 1815-1872
Contributors:Thomas Kammerer; Andreas Borum, 1799-1853
Identifier: 022kieghoff-inidan-wigwam
Rights: Public domain
Gift of the Bain family - 2008.
Courtesy: Toronto Public Library

This coloured lithograph has  more significant pattern change. The chevron pattern is Yellow - Red - Blue - Red - Yellow - Blue and the banded decoration on the shaft has been replaced with an all red.  A decision was made use a different, brighter blue for this side. Again not even close to a colour match on the original, but it was the best I could do.

Krieghoff Paddle Replica  - alternate side

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Mawi' Art: Charlie Gaffney Etched Paddle

Mawi' Art is an Artist Collective that features various forms of Atlantic First Nations art and crafts. The section on carvings and sculpture features an image of Wolastoqiyik (Maliseet) Visual Artist Charlie Gaffney working on an incised paddle...

Charlie Gaffney Etched Paddle

While perusing the paintings section of the site, I came across a mural by Natalie Sappier featuring a canoe related theme with decorated paddles.

Natalie Sappier

Monday, February 26, 2018

Naskapi (Innu) Paddle Replica from the Chicago Field Museum

As mentioned in this previous post, the Field Museum has a model Naskapi (Innu) paddle collected during the Rawson-MacMillan Subarctic Expeditions ( 1927-1928 ).

Canoe Paddle
Catalog Number: 177305
Cultural Attribution: Montagnais-Naskapi 
Locality: North America, Canada, Quebec, Labrador, Davis Inlet Band
Accession Year: 1928 
Collector/Source: Rawson-MacMillan Subarctic Expedition for Field Museum, W. D. Strong
IRN: 1080712

James VanStone's publication, Material culture of the Davis Inlet and Barren Ground Naskapi: The William Duncan Strong Collection outlines many of the ethnographic items collected during this expedition. Unfortunately when it came to full sized paddles, no photos were taken but instead, Plate 49 (pg 89) featured a hand sketched diagram of four decorated pieces acquired for the collection. The model looks to be similar to Paddle A from the display.

Material culture of the Davis Inlet and Barren Ground Naskapi 

A narrow cutoff of Spruce lumber left over from making the two piece canoe pole was the perfect piece of stock to make a full sized version of this model. While there were minor knots in the blade and one unfortunately on the shaft, it was still left pretty robustly carved for strength.  Early carving photos were lost with the damaged SD card, but the paddle was chopped down with an axe and then worked with a crooked knife and spokeshave. The thin red markings used to replicate the original decoration were made with a Sharpie oil-based paint marker.

60 inch Naskapi Cree (Innu) Field Museum Replica

As a bit of a fun side by side comparison, I cropped my image and converted it to greyscale. Here is the Field Museum model paddle next to my full scale reproduction:

Side by Side

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Historic Paddle Photo: Voyageur Paddling Stroke

Here's an image of an HBC freight canoe carrying Missionaries as passengers. According to Timothy J. Kent, author of Birchbark Canoes of the Fur Trade, the photo is dated to 1907 and was taken on the Lac des Quinze section of the Upper Ottawa River. However a postcard in the collection of the Quebec Archives also bears this image and claims to taken on Lac Abitibi
 Lac des Quinze, Upper Ottawa River, 1907
or Lake Abitibi

What caught my attention, however, was the paddling technique of the Native Guides. If you look closely at their grip hands, the paddles are not being held with the palm across the top of the grip in the "modern" technique of today. Instead, the upper grip hand is held parallel to the shaft with the thumb pointing down. This indigenous paddling technique has been discussed in a post here and helps to explain why many surviving paddles from this era had oddly shaped grips (or none at all) compared to modern designs.

 Bow paddler and Milieux using the "Indigenous" paddle technique

 Rear Milieux using the "Indigenous" paddle technique 

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Paddle Submission: Lee F's Poplar Voyageur Paddle

Always enjoy it when a reader gets inspiration from this blog and carves their own paddle. Lee F used information gathered from the site to carve a voyageur paddle from a dead standing poplar tree in his own yard. It was split  with an axe and wedges, shaped with a hatchet, then carved up with a crooked knife.

Poplar Voyageur Paddle

For sanding, Lee used a piece of wet leather embedded with sand. That's a technique seems so practical in its simplicity. I hadn't heard of that before but will certainly try with the growing pile of leather scraps on hand.

Great stuff Lee!

Friday, February 16, 2018

Historic Paddle Photo: Rough Waters on the Restigouche

Here's a wonderful action shot of bark canoe rushing down down some rapids. While the blade of the Guide's paddle is submerged under the water, the long flat grip is faintly visible in the photo.

Source : New Brunswick, Canada  (Publication date 1920)

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Update on two paddle designs - American Indian Art Magazine

"While browsing through some back issues American Indian Art Magazine at the Toronto Reference Library, I came across an advertisement featuring two familiar paddle blades featured on the blog before.

Ad from American Indian Art Magazine
Spring 2015, Volume 40, Issue 2

The blade on left seems to be from the set of circa 1860 "Delaware" paddles briefly discussed in this post here.

circa 1860 "Delaware" paddles
Original Post Here

A subsequent find in an old Sotheby's catalog from the 90s describes the paddles as " Probably Lorette-Huron"...
“A Pair of Painted Wood Oars, Probably Lorette-Huron.” 
Important American Indian Art
Sotheby’s New York
May 19,1998, lot 726
Original Post Link

The slightly wider blade shape and the obvious paint drips from the dotted decoration point to the likelihood that the shorter paddle of the pair is the one in the ad.

I've made attempts to contact the antique dealer featured in the ad to no avail. But after browsing through snapshots of their site through the Wayback Machine Internet Archive, I was able to find the text that matches this paddle's description:
"This paddle clearly embodies the color symbolism of the Upper and Lower Worlds. The color division of the blade reflects the duality inherent in Native Cosmology. The alternating dots of red and blue circles extending toward the canoeist suggest an animistic connection.
This paddle is associated with the Fur Trade complex. The distinct ornamentation undoubtedly identify this paddle to an individual or band. The three perforations in the handle may have symbolic references and further distinguished its ownership."

The blade on the right of the ad seems to be from the pair of  "Iroquois paddles" listed in a Cowan's auction from 2003.

Pair of Painted Iroquois Canoe Paddles, made of two piece hardwood, red and white painted blade, unpainted shaft
each 65.5" long. Ex Howard K. Echenstern Collection.
 Cowan’s Auction, Cincinnati, Ohio
September 12 &13, 2003, lot #191

The Trotta-Bono experts believe that the Iroquois attribution is incorrect.

"This paddle is finely crafted with a particularly long, narrow blade with a pronounced medial ridge. The long shaft is round in cross section with a broad flattened handle. The distinct ornamentation clearly associates this paddle with the Fur Trade and with a presumably distinct band’s identification. The white circle undoubtedly refers to an aspect of Native Cosmology, interestingly, the white band at the transition from blade to shaft is positioned within the overall red blade."

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