Saturday, December 19, 2015

Historic Paddle Illustration: James Peachey - decorated paddles

The online exhibit, Heritage Passages, features some more detailed full-sized images of historic Canadian artwork no longer in copyright. Among them is James Peachey's   Southeast view of Cataraqui on Lake Ontario

Southeast view of Cataraqui (Kingston) on Lake Ontario
James Peachey, James Peachey collection
Library and Archives Canada, accession number 1989-221-5, C-001511
1 watercolour / aquarelle : watercolour and pen and ink over pencil on paper
August 1785

The watercolour painting shows two canoes in the immediate foreground. The illustrated paddles have a simple but clearly visible decorative pattern. They all consist of highly contrasting divided pattern of red and black.

Decorated Paddle Closeup

Decorated Paddle Closeup

Red pigmentation seems to be a commonly used decorative item for paddles in this era. For another example of Peachey's canoe artwork with painted paddles, see this post here

As an aside, New York's Metropolitan Museum of the Arts has a bark canoe model with similarly decorated paddles in their collection dated to pre-1845 (original post HERE) although of course the pigment has faded with time.

Canoe Model with Accoutrements
Ralph T. Coe Collection, Gift of Ralph T. Coe Foundation for the Arts, 2011
Accession Number: 2011.154.6a–p

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Circa 1900 Adirondack Steering Paddle

LiveAuctioneers has another post-auction listing of a unique Adirondack Steering paddle featuring the distinct diamond grip style.

Surface decorated with (2) stars and mountain lion.
Length 67 inches

The polished and slightly worn grip has an oval, egg liked top grip with the flattened diamond section decorated with a star motif...

While not fully visible in the overall paddle view, there is a burned decoration of a mountain lion on the blade.

Many other Adirondack paddles have been featured on the site before (see other posts here). For those who might have missed it, Dr. Gordon L. Fisher published an excellent book back in 2008 thoroughly discussing the interesting history of the paddles in this region.

It also features detailed plans and woodworking tips for carving replicas of surviving Adirondack paddles in museums.  Downloadable PDF excerpts provide a preview of the content.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Winchester Rifle Canoe Lady Ad

Nancy McClure's brief blog post   "Treasures from Our West: Winchester calendar" discusses the origins of the company's history of using outdoor-themed calendars with catchy slogans as a marketing tool for their firearms. In particular, a 1909 poster features an “outdoorsy” woman who is all packed up for a back country trip. Her trusty Winchester rifle is carefully positioned right in the center of the image..

 Gift of Olin Corporation
Winchester Arms Collection

A closeup shows her gear all laid out including a leather  bag, a handled wicker basket and canvas roll pack all bundled up. Also found it interesting that the closed gunnel canvas canoe seems to have an exterior mounted carrying yoke which extends past the canoe's outwales complete with shoulder pads.

Another Winchester ad from this era was discussed earlier in this post that featured a hunter in his bark canoe with the his paddle propped up supporting the shot. The artist also correctly captured a carrying bar lashed over the centre thwart which was common practice for some bark canoes to take the strain off the centre thwart lashings. There's also a wanigan box resting in the hull with his hat and pipe thrown on for good measure.

Winchester Rifle Ad
 Rod and Gun in Canada
December 1904
p. 270  


Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Historic Paddle Photos: In Pine Tree Jungles

Another find on 's massive collection of vintage texts is a booklet put out by the  Bangor and Aroostook Railroad Company -   In Pine-Tree Jungles: A hand-book for sportsmen and campers in the great Maine woods (1902). While flipping through its pages, I came across two photos that clearly show some early wood canvas canoe designs and wonderful paddles.

The first is on page 17 and features a great bushcraft camp scene. Pot boiling over the fire with canvas shelter rigged up. The canoe on shore looks to be a very early cedar canvas model with closed gunnels and no seats and the thwarts mortised into the inwales like in birchbark canoe construction.

Between the seated gentleman and the canoe, two paddles rest against the canvas shelter. The contrast isn't the greatest, but by zooming in, one can make out the graceful beavertail shape and slender grip. Each look to have a roll on the top. Here is the closeup...

Page 66 has a vertical, full-sized image of a successful hunt scene. Here is the image rotated. Again no seats in these early guide canoes. A paddle is resting on the ground on the lower left of the image...

While the bulk of the blade is buried under the brush, you can clearly see the wide top grip with a subtle roll that quickly tapers and sharply merges with the paddle shaft.

Paddle Closeup

This paddle image reminded me of a similar design on a pair of child's paddles that were identified as Penobscot made by the antique dealer.

Pair of Child's Canoe Paddles
Circa 1920
5" w, 42.75" h

Also, another recent historic photo post revealed an unknown guide using a similarly shaped grip ...

Paddle Grip Closeup
Original Post & Photo sequence HERE

Monday, December 7, 2015

Woolley and Wallis "North Eastern" Auction Paddle

Auctioneers Woolley and Wallis out of the UK had a  listing of a "North Eastern Native American Paddle" as part of their Antiquities, Pre-Columbian and Tribal Art sale in February, 2015. The 203 cm (approximately 80") long paddle is carved from maple, features a lengthy grip with carved etchings at the base as well as an incised "Y".

A North Eastern Native American maple canoe paddle 203cm long.
Estimate: £500 - 600
Hammer Price £ 1,100
Lot 511 - Source Link

 "Y" Carved into top of grip

Decorative etching at base of grip

Unfortunately there is no date listed but the maple has aged to a very dark patina. However the shape and description seems identical to the the circa 1840 figured maple paddle posted here back in 2008. The original listing from that auction site no longer features the paddle but the description seems to be a match...

ca 1840 Figured Maple Paddle

Original Description from

A Fine Northeastern Woodlands Native American Maliseet or Micmac Maple Wood Single Blade Canoe Paddle. Old smooth and dry patina – the letter ‘Y’ carved to one end. Circa 1840. Size: 203cm long – 80 ins long. Beautifully crafted from one piece of figured maple wood this paddle was made to be used with a birch bark canoe. It is generally considered that Micmac and Passamaquoddy birch bark canoes were the finest of all bark canoes and were built for use on both rivers and the ocean.

Friday, December 4, 2015

Historic Paddle Illustration: William Armstrong's Checkered Paddles

Back in 2009 I posted about a decorated paddle featured in a painting by William Armstrong (circa 1860-1870). The artwork entitled, "Hudson's Bay Store, Fort William" illustrated a narrow paddle with a distinct checkerboard like pattern in red and yellow.

Hudson's Bay Store, Fort William c. 1860-1870 
William Armstrong
National Gallery of Canada (no. 30490)

Paddle Closeup

Recently I came across another well known piece by Armstrong named "Indians Completing a Portage". The rather busy and chaotic scene shows plenty of action taking place. It took a while, but eventually my eyes spotted a seated figure in the lower right foreground with a paddle laying on a log.

Indians Completing a Portage
William Armstrong
1873 watercolor 
Library and Archives Canada, Mikan #2833414

Paddle Closeup

Another painting by Armstrong features this same pattern again. This piece entitled "The Distribution of the Government Bounty on Great Manitouling Island" dates to 1856. The artist once again placed this decorated paddle in the periphery. It is on the far left foreground behind another subject with the red shirt.

The Distribution of the Government Bounty on Great Manitouling Island 1856
William Armstrong

Here's a closeup...

Armstrong was both an engineer and an artist with a great attention to detail. Many have commented on the accuracy of his paintings of the huge freight canoes in addition to his earlier artwork the sailing commerce of the Great Lakes. It stands to reason that his artwork portrays a realistic image of this era in history.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

December 2015 Cherry Gallery Paddles

The December list of current items on feature more vintage paddles up for sale. This single lot of eight paddles comes from Maine. A few have been painted and carved with distinct grip styles, very similar to the classic Penobscot "step grip". They date between 1850-1900 and vary from 63" to 76" in length. What a beautiful collection!

Native American Canoe Paddles
These eight paddles were collected over a number of years by a couple who recently sold their Maine home and its contents. They are all early, Native American-made canoe paddles with sculptural form and appealing surface.
Circa 1850-1900
from 63" - 76" high
 (priced individually or in lots - for more)

CherryGallery's monthly post also features a pair of miniature paddles with some lovely etching decorations.

Pair of Model Canoe Paddles
 The incised-carved decoration on these handmade canoe paddles is very similar to the traditional decoration on Penobscot clubs.
Circa 1900
Each - 4" w, 31" h

The ornamental decoration on the paddle blades has a fern-like theme. The etchings go down part of the shaft onto the shoulders and continue again at the tip. 

Most interesting is the etching done on the grip surface.  Very decorative...

Monday, November 30, 2015

Indigenous Paddling Technique: Part 2

A few of my previous posts have focused on traditional indigenous paddling techniques by First Nation canoeists. While often described as "inefficient" by today's modern paddling gurus, the short, choppy, non vertical stroke is comfortable for me, since nearly all my paddling is done from the kneeling position down low in the canoe.

A few surviving photos also illustrate how the paddle was held with both hands in a more natural, relaxed "push up" position, with the grip hand often grabbing the shaft or loosely draped perpendicular to the grip. Perhaps the best photo of this is described in Robert E. Pinkerton's The Canoe: Its Selection, Care and Use (published 1916). 

Pinkerton, RE.  The Canoe: Its Selection, Care and Use (1916)
Image Reference Link

Here are a few others that have been posted here before...

Ojibwe Chief Busticogan in a bark canoe on the Big Fork River (MN)
Original Post: Historic Photo: Ojibwe Paddling Method
Image Source Link  

Chippewa Paddlers - Mille Lacs - MN 
Original Post here

Recently I found another article describing this method which originally appeared in an article entitled, "Taking the Tip out of a Canoe" by Charles L. Gilman. It originally appeared on page 21 of Field and Stream (April 1927, Vol. 32  No. 12) and expounds on why native paddlers were so stable in their craft. The text portion has been reprinted as a "classic" on Field and Stream's current website (available here). While the language of the article might be distasteful to modern ears, it does provide a clue to the original method of kneeled paddling before seats in canoes became standard. Furthermore, it clearly explains the design need for longer paddles for use with this more lateral canoe stroke.

A few relevant excerpts from the piece:
"The habit of sitting low in the canoe forces upon the Indian a paddle technique which is different from that of the white man and, in general, less efficient. To reach the water he must slant his paddle out, much like an oar. He does not grip with his upper hand across the head of the paddle shaft, but around it, with his thumb toward the blade. 
This demands a longer paddle than is required by a white man--one as long as the user is tall, as compared with one standing to the height of the user's mouth if he kneels or to his eyes if he sits to paddle. "  

After reading this online, I got interested in searching out the original for photos. Managed to find it in a Library archive and was delighted to see it featured a full frontal shot of a kneeling paddler griping his paddle with this more natural hand positioning.

Field and Stream (April 1927, Vol. 32  No. 12 p21) 

The author then goes on to mention a personal observance with a changing technique trend and paddle designs amongst his circle.

"...Within the last fifteen years the paddle with a plain round shaft has been displaced by that widened for a cross grip among the Indians with whom I am familiar. They sit low and grip around the shaft in rough water, and perch very high and use the cross-grip and vertical stroke when things are calm and peaceful and there is no danger."

This observation seemed to clarify why many early surviving paddles simply had a rounded  "pole grip" instead of something to comfortably grasp with the hand. After all, with the effort to shape out a blade, carving a rudimentary grip would not take much more effort. However, the the paddler simply gripped the shaft in this more natural position, there would be no need for wasting time and effort on a utilitarian device like a paddle.

As a final aside, another photo of this style of paddle and technique being used. This one dated to the October 1909 of Rod and Gun in Canada...

"Successful Moose Hunts on a Quebec Game Preserve" by F.B. Guild
Rod and Gun in Canada Vol 11. No 5. October 1909

The guide in the read is clearly using this method on his pole grip style ...

Image Closeup

Friday, November 27, 2015

Abbe Museum Coming Home Gallery Guide

One of my must visit places when I eventually get to Maine is the Abbe Museum in Bar Harbor. Over the years, it has had very informative displays and events showcasing the Wabanaki canoe culture. One of their 2015 exhibits (set to close on December 19th) is Coming Home. The museum was able to borrow various Wabanaki items from various ethnological collections residing outside of Maine.

One of the beautiful paddles on loan for their display is a very interesting paddle from the American Museum of Natural History:

 Catalog No: 50.1/ 7780
Dimensions: L:127.5 W:13 [in CM]
Accession No: 1914-4

I've always been curious about this paddle. The surface has weathered into what looks to be a greyish layer and the grip has very unique carvings right through the wood. Another different element is the paddle's length - a very short 127.5cm (roughly 50 inches). I always thought my paddles (58") were short in comparison to other traditional paddles that generally reach the 70+ inch mark.

Well, the Abbe has partially answered these questions with their Coming Home Gallery Guide available for download in pdf format (link HERE). I found it very generous of the museum to make this available to the public. It does an outstanding job putting the objects of the exhibit into context and describe their cultural significance. Wish more museums would do this.

Pages 22-23 of the document feature some additional photos of the paddle being analyzed along with some interesting finds. Examinations with microscopic and chemical analyses revealed that the paddle had two layers of paint and was originally a green color.  The base layer pigment was made from a green sedimentary rock which formed at the bottom of an ancient seabed. Later it seems, the paddle was repainted with a commercial paint as specks of blue, yellow and white pigments were found.

Also interesting is that despite the paddle's ornate decoration and small size, it was not just a souvenir. The Museum experts concluded that peeling paint on the blade along with a waxy coating detected on the handle are consistent with with other paddles which were known to have been used.

The document also features two additional closeup photos of the blade and handle revealing faint double curve motifs and etchings, not fully apparent in the AMNH's stock collection photo.

Thank you Abbe Museum for making this document available for download and sharing some  wonderful descriptive detail for those of us fascinated by Wabanaki canoe and paddle culture!

Thursday, November 26, 2015

c1900 Folk Decorated Canoe Paddle

LiveAuctioneers has an interesting find described as a circa 1900 Folk Decorated Canoe Paddle. The 61 inch paddle has a pretty standard shape but the blade is decorated on both sides with some etchings.

1900 Folk Decorated Canoe Paddle
Length = 61"

One side of the blade has the words  "Travail Vainc Tout". Loosely translated it means "Work vanquishes all".  The other side features a Gibson Era woman with some initials and additional artistic etchings of birds.

The decorated blades

Even the plain shaped grip has a bit of decorative flair with triangular etching on the face.

Grip Closeup

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Historic Paddle Illustration: Stand up paddle guide

Found an illustration of guide using a stand up paddle technique. It was found on in an otherwise boring government publication - Annual reports of the Forest, Fish and Game Commissioner of the State of New York - 2nd Edition (1895/96).

Venison for the Camp

Closeup of stand up paddle

Friday, November 20, 2015

Ebay Dragon Fly Diamond Grip Paddle

Blog contributor Luc Poitras just notified me of a unique looking paddle up for sale on Ebay. The listing shows various angles of the paddle which feature a strong spine down the blade and a tiny burning of a dragonfly.

The grip features a very interesting design as well - a sort of oval top with diamond or arrowhead lower section commonly found in Adirondack style paddles. Here are a few more of the seller's photos...

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