Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Symbolism in Penobscot Art

Found another great resource of First Nation art which features many examples of the double curve motif often used to decorate paddles and bark canoes - Symbolism in Penobscot art (1927) by Frank Gouldsmith Speck published by the American Museum of Natural History. This wonderful resource discusses some of the origins and significance of these motifs in Penobscot Culture. It contains some sketched representations of various forms as well as some black and white photos of baskets, garmets, knife handles and other objects. Here's an example:

What caught my eye however is a tiny photo and caption on page 43 which describes a piece of birchbark used as a stencil template to make symmetrical patterns on a paddle blade. It seems so obvious and practical instead of drawing these things freehand but it never occurred to me to simplify the decoration process.

Anyway, for folks wishing to replicate these intricate designs hope this paddle resource is useful to you.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Kent Lund's New Paddles

Exquisite Folk Art Paddle Maker, Kent Lund, has sent in some pics of his latest works made from Poplar and Curly Maple. 

I'm partial to one on the left, which features a romantic, heart shaped grip and cute message painted right below. The blade has a wonderful woodsy look with a birchbark face.

For more pics of Kent's creations, be sure to also check out his updated website, http://www.customcanoepaddle.com/

P.S. Another fellow paddle maker, Clarkson of Up the Creek... blog has also made a similar woodsy beavertail paddle by painting a faux birchbark look on the shaft rather than the blade. All this amazing creativity will hopefully give other readers some inspiration for their own work.

Friday, May 25, 2012

ca 1900 Passamaquoddy Maple Paddle

This expired Ebay Listing shows a circa 1900  Passamaquoddy Paddle made from maple. It features a nice, weathered patina and has some initials carved into the handle. The paddle is just under 6ft with a relatively large, extended beavertail blade thinned to a feathered edge and a slender, straight sided grip.

Closeup  photos of the grip clearly show the extreme taper thins quite a bit ending in a tiny roll at the top. Given the paddle was made from dense & heavy maple, it was likely thinned to reduce the overall weight.

 The seller also has a postcard image of Athion Lewey image posted on earlier HERE.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Weekend Paddling Fun

Had some time to work on the cedar canvas over the Victoria Day Long Weekend holiday here in Canada. When I last posted about it, I had removed the outwales and shaved off the thick layers of red paint with the spokeshave to reveal the nice ash grain below. The stem bands were removed and a basic facelift was underway

Removed outwale

Shaving off painted layer

These were then varnished to sweet looking  golden colour. In the meantime, the hull needed a new paintjob. My son's favourite colour (lately) is green and  to get him involved in the process  I had shown him various photos of green canoes so he could pick one he liked. In the end, he went for the pistachio coloured green of the Chestnut Prospector canoe featured on Mike Elliot's wonderful blog here. My guy referred to it as "Froggie Green" and flashes of Kermit the Frog kept coming into my head.

Mike Elliot Restored Prospector

Since this canoe is meant to be a rough user, some research on the WCHA forums mentioned use of Tremclad Rust Enamel paint (available at any hardware store in Canada) as perfectly suitable for canoes. Lucky for us, I was able to score a quart of this in their "Spring Green" at the bargain basement price of $4.95. Seems like this colour isn't popular with the masses which is fine by me. After some basic sanding of the old canvas and 2 coats, the canoe has had a nice facelift.

Hull painted with outwales varnished and ready to re-attach

Flipped over for a quick photo op

The boy coming in to inspect the work 

I've already picked up some new brass stembands which will have to wait until the next long weekend holiday trip up north to be installed. Still debating whether to go through with carving new decks and a centre yoke. Maybe we'll just use the canoe as is this season and then go through with more refurbishing later...that's the beauty of wood canvas canoes. So easy to work on and slap back together to get onto the water.

While the green paint was waiting to dry, we hopped into the blue 14 footer and went for a  whirl around the bay. Compared to last year, where the little man was content just to sit and watch, this year he really wanted to get into the paddling action.

What a great start to the 2012 paddling season!

Thursday, May 17, 2012

c1878 York Sunbury Maliseet Replica: Part 1

Another paddle is in the works. For a few months now, I've been intending to replicate the c1878 Maliseet Paddle from the York Sunbury Museum...see posts here, here, and here.

c1878 York Sunbury Maliseet Paddle

Unfortunately (or fortunately depending on how you look at it), I made a carving error with yellow birch stock that was originally sourced for this paddle. Instead, I ended up with a custom design influenced by the Maliseet / Passamaquoddy paddle at the McCord Museum.

Luckily, another board of Yellow Birch was on hand and I ended up chopping out the rough outline with the axe. Given the pressure of using up my last yellow birch board, I didn't end up taking pics of the chopping process (most readers have seen enough of those pics I'm sure.) Unlike last time, this board was much easier to work with an axe,  spokeshave and crooked knife without tear out and catastrophic results. After working out the general shape without wrecking the blank and cleaning up the paddle with the spokeshave, the following pic just after Toronto received a paltry speckling of wet snow that was typical of this year's "winter" in the city.

The backyard workshop

Over the next few weeks, the paddle was worked on whenever time and weather permitted. The board stock for this one was originally 6/4 which meant that the paddle started off a little thicker than the usual 5/4 boards I source out. A decision was made to leave the shaft oval shaped rather than round like is usually done with my other creations. Furthermore, the last few paddles have been  thinned and carved to be very flexible as users. Since the original highly-ornamented paddle was likely for ceremonial purposes and not for daily usage, it was  decided to leave  it a little thicker than usual and maintain  a bit more stiffness than what I usually prefer in my user paddles.

Springtime in the backyard workshop

Here's a shot of the wetted paddle. A little bit more scraping to remove the raised grain and she'll be set for the beginning of the decoration phase.

Luc Poitras, a fellow paddle carver, emailed  a question about the woodburning equipment I use so in the future update, I'll be sure to include details and pics of the equipment and technique.

This weekend is a holiday here in Canada and the marks the unofficial start to the canoeing season. We're heading up north as well where my canoes will finally hit the water after a winter of hibernation storage. Hoping to test this one out and get some pics of my last few paddles as well.

Sept 1, 2012 UPDATE: Part 2 has been posted online

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

1898 Abanaki Paddles

Long paddles for Stand Up Paddling (SUP) have become all the rage, but here's more evidence that SUP is nothing new. This 1898 historic photo featurs a weathered bark canoe and some long Abenaki style paddles. Many similar pics from this era feature paddles that were quite taller than the paddler's height, likely for the need to paddle standing up to navigate the shallow, rocky rivers in Maine/New Brunswick.

Athian Lewey, West Grand Lake, 1898
Full Citation

Closeup of paddle on bark canoe

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Pinkerton's Info on the NorthWoods Stroke

Readers of my blog will be familiar with my preference for "Northwoods" style paddling technique and paddle grips. I've been slowly trying to gather more information on this elusive technique for the benefit of others and here is a bit of a synopsis. Recently, I posted about the technique being featured in Becky Mason's 2012 paddling DVD, Advanced Solo Canoeing.

Much of the confusion surrounding the paddling method comes from overlapping names of other strokes, especially since it shares many similarities to "the Canadian", "The Knifing-J", and even sometimes, the "Indian Stroke". Whatever the name, it is an efficient but little known method of propulsion that uses leverage and timing instead of brute force to power the canoe. It features a short power phase, rapid cadence, and use of abdominal muscles more so than "arm paddling" used by many paddlers. Early writings describing the paddling technique of natives mention a similar short, choppy stroke which powered the canoe rather effortlessly for long distances.

It seems logical that the inspiration for this technique would therefore originate with native peoples powering their canoes while kneeling on the bottom of their hulls. One of the earliest published writings which loosely describes the stroke is found in Robert E. Pinkerton's The Canoe: Its Selection, Care and Use (published 1914). This little gem, complete with wonderful photos shows the author in various paddling positions. The Toronto Reference Library has a copy of this classic in their archives and during a visit, I photocopied this picture which shows the kneeling stance of what the author calls "The Indian's Position"

The photo also clearly shows the upper hand, which is not gripping the top of the paddle but laid against the shaft in a much more natural position. Here are some select quotes from Chapter IV describing the reasoning and mechanics of the stroke...
"The usual stroke of the amateur canoeist is a long, slow pull with a slow, sweeping recovery. In the north woods, where the canoe is best understood, this stroke is never seen. The stroke is shorter, the recovery like lightning, and nearly two strokes are taken to the amateur's one.

A day's journey will demonstrate the superiority of the woodsman's methods. His quick recovery almost eliminates that loss of momentum which is so hard to overcome and which is a continual drag on the energy of the slow-stroked paddler. The canoe maintains its headway, and greater results are accomplished for the energy expended.

The woodsman devotes his strength to the first of the stroke. The power diminishes rapidly when the paddle reaches his side, and the stroke is terminated quickly after it has passed. To continue the stroke as far back as one can reach necessitates a sharp inclination of the paddle. Any force expended upon the paddle when it is so inclined serves to pull the paddle up through the water more than to push it backward. The result on the canoe is to force or pull down the stern rather than to add to the forward motion. Not only is energy diverted from propulsion, but the upward lift on the paddle forces the stern more deeply into the water, thereby causing a greater drag on the canoe.

The quick, short stroke has another advantage which saves time and energy. With the proper paddle, the spring of the blade itself is sufficient to shoot the paddle forward for the next stroke with but little effort on the part of the paddler. To do this, the lower hand should be rigid at the end of the stroke, and there should be a slight, quick addition of power just before the paddle leaves the water."
After coming back from the library and doing a search of used bookstores to see if this classic was available to order, I found out that it is available online in its entirety thanks to the generosity of The Wooden Canoe Heritage Association.

Friday, May 4, 2012

CMC Canoe Model - Decorated Paddles

In the same line as the auctioned canoe model with decorative paddles from this previous post, the Chartres Canoe Model, and the Neuchatel model, here are some more decorated model paddles dated to 1805 from the Canadian Museum of Civilization

Artifact Number III-E-311 a-q
Museum CMC
End Date 1805/12/31
Measurements Height 37.0 cm, Length 75.0 cm, Width 20.0 cm
Maliseet; Northeastern Woodlands

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Vintage Paddle Pic - Rocking the Paddle Guitar...

From an expired Ebay ad (now removed), a pic featuring some chaps lounging by the shore. The canoes feature a closed gunnel system (typically from the pre-1920s) and canvas sponsons to prevent tipping.

Here's a previous post featuring some ladies with one of them also striking the paddle guitar pose...

Six women in swimwear at the Potomac Tidal Basin beach, Washington, D.C., 1922.

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