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.


David said...

Murat, what would they use to paint there paddles, and would they protect them with some sort of finish, like oil? Or they wouldn't bother and just use them "raw" since they were disposable?!?!
I paint/ dye a lot of my paddle blades, and think it make for something a bit more unique!

Murat said...

Very likely paddles were painted with bright red Vermilion powder (Mercury Sulfide) obtained as a trade item which explains a lot of. It was mixed in oil so the blade was protected a bit while being decorating. Harder to find would be red ochre powder again suspended in oil. But it looks like most paddles were just carved and left untreated as disposable item since carving a paddle was considered a pretty simple skill back then.

David said...

cool I should look into finding that stuff and trying it out!!

Murat said...

If you're interested, Rick Nash from Dorset Ontario uses Red Ochre powder with oil with some of his paddles. Check out his "Fur Trade" paddle made from spruce HERE.

Post a Comment

Newer Posts Older Posts Home Page