Friday, September 5, 2014

Historical Paddle Art: Robert Griffing's "The Paddle Painter"

Artist Robert Griffing is well known for his historical art depicting Eastern Woodland peoples and the 18th Century Eastern frontier. Many of his paintings feature bark canoes and decorated paddles. One of his new releases is entitled, "The Paddle Painter" and features a calming scene of a how a paddle might have been decorated with natural pigments in years gone by...

"The Paddle Painter"
©Robert Griffing

The snake like pattern on the blade along with the red wavy borders is a common theme I've seen in some of his other artworks. Most notably in another stunning piece called "Into the Unknown"

"Into the Unknown" by Robert Griffing - ©Robert Griffing

The pattern may be based on some model paddles dated to 1740-1750 and documented in Timothy Kent's marvelous publication, Birchbark Canoes of the Fur Trade (ISBN: 0-9657230-0-3 ). Figure 86 illustrates some decorated paddles that were made in New France to accompany a souvenir canoe model. The third paddle from the left features this serpentine patten with the scalloped border.

 Figure 86. Paddles fashioned ca. 1740s-1750s in New France to accompany a Type A-1 voyaging canoe model and figurines. Original Link 

Not sure of the significance, but the snake-like pattern is one featured in another form of Woodland Art - native pictographs. One of the most famous is the Panel VIII pictograph on Agawa Rock in Lake Superior Provincial Park. It features a representation of a canoe with the Great Lynx Mishibizhiw who controlled Lake Superior. Below are two giant underwater serpents called Mishi-ginebikoog in the Ojibwe language. 

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