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...





No comments:

Post a Comment


Newer Posts Older Posts Home Page