Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Historic Paddle Illustration: Mi'kmaq Paddle Art

An interesting article entitled, "Art Sales: colonial Canadian art reawakened", in The Telegraph discusses how auction sales of 19th century colonial artworks are fetching record prices. In particular, 2 famous paintings featuring Mi'kmaw bark canoes and paddles that were estimated at between  £25,000 - £40,000 went for a whopping  £530,500,  more than 13 times the high end estimate! It apparently was sold to an unidentified Canadian buyer.

The first piece,  Mi’qmak Indians hunting Canada geese, features a typical "humped" Mi'kmaq Ocean canoe with rounded ends riding the ocean waves powered by a blanket sail.

Mi’qmak Indians hunting Canada geese
ca. 1850
Artist: Unknown

The female bow paddler has her infant secured to her back with a cradle board and is paddling with a paddle shape very unique to this First Nations group - a spear like blade with recurved shoulders and no grip end.

This paddle design has been described as an early Micmac paddle after a sketch which still exists in the National Maritime Museum (London) and reproduced by Adney & Chappelle.

Fig. 4: Adney & Chappelle
Bulletin - United States National Museum
Smithsonian Institution; United States. Dept. of the Interior

The second painting,  Mi’qmak Indian camp on a bay with Mi’qmaks shooting Canada geese, also features some lovely lateral shots of these bark canoes along with better illustration of the paddle shapes and decorated blades

Mi’qmak Indian camp on a bay with Mi’qmaks shooting Canada geese
ca. 1850
Artist: Unknown

A closeup of the male hunter on the bottom left shows a paddle resting across the gunnels. The paddle blade features a distinct scroll pattern and no discernible grip on the end either. In the zoomed image, it also looks like his one leg is wrapped over the paddle shaft for a sort of brace before taking the shot with his rifle.

The other female bow paddlers once again feature the spear like paddles with curved motifs for decoration.

If this second painting looks familiar it's because I posted about another version back in 2009. That copy now resides in the National Art Gallery of Canada. Clearly painted by the same unknown artist, the oil and canvas version is said to be of poorer quality than the one just sold at auction.

"Micmac Indians"
Unknown Artist, circa 1850
oil on canvas
45.7 x 61 cm

National Gallery of Canada (no. 6663)

I've read that many ethnographers have praised the details in these artworks as very accurate portrayals of Mi'kmaw embroidery and material culture so it should give a wonderful clue as to paddle forms and decoration of this time period.

January 2018 Update: A replica of the stern paddle has been complete. Click HERE for that post.

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