Sunday, May 27, 2018

Codex Canadensis Odawa Paddle Replica - Part 2

For the upcoming WCHA assembly display showcasing various historical depictions of decorative paddles, I've decided to carve a reproduction from the remarkably illustrated manuscript, Codex canadensis, dated to circa 1700.

Representing one of the oldest decorative depiction of canoe paddles by an illustrator who actually journey through much of Eastern Canada, the  manuscript is believed to have been by Louis Nicolas , a French missionary who spent 11 years in Canada during the late-seventeenth century.  Nicolas was never trained as a formal artist so 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 true ethnographic value however is in the details. Many of the paddles feature lines, decorative dots, zig zags and other elements that echo the full body tattoo featured and described  on First Nations people of the period

The specific  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 accompanying paddle features a relatively broad, leaf-like blade with a tapering shaft ending in a pole grip.

p. 18, Fig. 23
Outaouase (Odawa) canoe and paddle


Another wide basswood cutoff short was used for this paddle reproduction. In keeping with the more dated history of the original inspiration, the paddle was worked down with an axe and crooked knife and I was less careful about the symmetry with this one. The tapering shaft worked down to a pole grip and certainly feels strange to anyone used to perfectly round paddle shafts, a pear grip and a beavertail blade.

Basswood of course lends itself to wonderful shading with pyrography so I attempted to mimic Nicolas' original sketch with ink and quill with quick strokes of the heated wood burning tip. However,  In the original a portion of the upper throat is blocked by the bow of the canoe, so some artistic license was needed to fill in the masked areas. Here is the final result.


Reproduction of the circa 1700 Codex canadensis
Outaouase (Odawa) paddle



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 B├ęcart 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...






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