Thursday, May 20, 2010

British Museum Maliseet Paddles

During a visit to Toronto's Reference Library, I requested an archived book entitled, Inventory of Micmac, Maliseet and Beothuk material culture in international collections : Great Britain by Ruth Holmes Whitehead (1985). The author mentions a few paddles on display in overseas museums, including a set in the British Museum, London. I was able to find a dark B & W photograph of the paddles in their online collection.

Inscribed paddle made of wood (maple)
Full Citation Link
© Trustees of the British Museum
(as per their online usage policy for educational purposes)

The two Maliseet paddle blades have decorative etchings but the photo contrast was less than ideal. Using some Photoshop adjustments with the Hue and Unsharpen Mask features, I changed the image a bit to add some colour and bring out the detail. Here's the new image below


The paddle decorations are inverted in the image, so by flipping the image around 180 degrees, the delicate etchings revealed themselves. Here is each paddle image along with Ruth Whitehead's descriptive detail.

Maliseet Paddle - AM1980 35.2
Dimensions = 135 cm x 13 cm (max)
"Canoe paddle, hand-carved, with incised designs on blade and shaft. Blade decorated with an image of a man with a leister in a canoe, night-fishing, with his woman in a peaked cap to paddle for him, and a birchbark torch to see by. Both peaked cap and canoe are in Maliseet style. A second design shows a woman with braided hair, a hip-length jacket with ribbon applique borders, leggings with elaborated selvedge edges, moccasins; she is standing, with a fish in her right hand and a knife in her left. The paddle handle has a border of lines and cross-hatch, surrounding a Scotch thistle above a salmon leister's head."

Maliseet Paddle - AM1980 35.1
Dimensions = 135 cm x 13 cm (max)
"Canoe paddle, hand-carved, with incised designs on blade and shaft. Blade decorated with two circles, one enclosing a realistic moose head, the other a caribou head. Near waist of blade is a design of a man wearing a toque, long coat, waistcoat, shirt, untied tie, fringed leggings to knee, short man's kilt, moccasins, with rifle in hand; labelled "BLACK BIRD". Blade signed "San Thomasis" (?); if accurate, this is corrupt French for "Jean Thomas", with the "sis" ending a dimunitive or endearment. The shaft is fairly plain; the handle is bordered with geometric motifs of scallops and triangles, with a cross-hatch fill. Handle centre is decorated with a magnificent salmon."

Whitehead's text had a hand-drawn sketch of the handle with its salmon etching. Here's a shot below:

Sketch of Grip & Carved Drip Ring

These fantastic images show that East Coast Native tribes did not just etch in geometric pattern designs.

Feb 2013 Update: See a full sized image of  Maliseet Paddle - AM1980 35.2 on this post HERE


Unknown said...

This is paddle by "Doc Polchies" from northern New Brunswick in Canada. Maliseet.early 1900s. Identifiable by the character istic cuts. I have photos of others that I will forward.

Murat said...

Thanks! Feel free to forward any more photos to my email address.

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