Thursday, April 28, 2016

19th-20th Century Arctic Wooden Kayak Paddle

This blog is mainly devoted to single blade canoe paddles, but occasionally a double-bladed paddle peaks my interest. The Cobbs Auctioneers are having a Fine Art, Antiques & Sporting auction on April 30th, 2016 (commencing 10:00 AM EDT). Included in the catalog is a late 19th/early 20th C Inuit Kayak paddle with interesting blade designs and decorative carvings on the centre of the loom.

 Description: Inuit Carved Wood Kayak Paddle, double bladed with a central carved block to identify the owner, 76" long , identified with the Attu Islands area due the unusual shape of the paddle blades, good old finish, 19th/20thC 

The closeup of the central part showcases the subtle carving. The round grip shafts transition into a square central part marked with 4 cross marks. The provided description claims this is a mark to identify the owner.

The shaft tapers right before meeting the blade. The blade itself features a subtle indent about half way down the sides with angular tips. This design might make for an interesting single blade pattern which in theory would have a stiffer upper portion and a more flexible feel near the tip.

Not sure about the ethnographic identification about this being an Inuit paddle though. The description mentions that paddle shape is traced to the Attu Islands area which is traditionally Aleut territory, a similar but distinctive sub-Arctic culture from Canadian / Greenland Inuit peoples.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Frank Benson: Canoeman has a closed lot auction listing for a beautiful piece of familiar canoe art. This sketch of Frank W Benson's Canoeman...

Canoeman, 1919
signed "Frank W. Benson" lower left
etching, 7 7/8 by 6 in.
numbered "26" lower right Paff # 161, edition 26 of 150
Estimate: $3,000 - $4,000
Lot closed - Winning bid:$4,800

A lot of canoe related memorabilia seems to be fetching over the listing prices lately. Readers might recall, I used this as the basis for the decoration on my Camp Stool Project. Now I'll have a pricey story to tell everytime the stool gets used.

Burning the image

Decoration Complete

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Historic Paddle Illustration: W.B. Berczy - Indian Encampment...

A painting by William Bent Berczy (1791 – 1873) entitled " Indian Encampment near Amherstburg" features a stylized shore scene. In the rear is a bark canoe and a set of decorated paddles lying on the ground.

Indian Encampment near Amherstburg, c. 1819-1830
William Bent Berczy
British, Canadian, 1791 - 1873
watercolour over graphite on wove paper
36.3 x 47.9 cm
Purchased 1998

A closeup of the paddles reveal simple decorative patterns...

Painted Paddle's Closeup

One paddle looks to have a diagonal checkered pattern with red paint (similar to William Armstrong's art) and the other has half the blade painted in red. This is reminiscent of the bark canoe souvenir model at the MET museum and some of James Peachey's paintings.

Monday, April 18, 2016

c1900 Birch Penobscot Painted Paddle

April 2016 current selections at features the following listing...

Painted Penobscot Canoe Paddle
An excellent example of a Native American birch canoe paddle with a wide, flat handle and a beaver tail blade. It has a red paint surface ending in an arrow shape at the grip.
Circa 1900
8" w, 69" h

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Heritage Paddles by Pyrographic Artist Dot Bonnenfant

For those who appreciate fine, pyrographic paddle art, check out the amazing work of Dot Bonnenfant of Heritage Paddles. Her gallery page contains a wonderful array of designs including samples inspired by native artwork, natural scenery and symbolic decoration with special meanings for the recipient.

Three of my favourite designs include her version of the well documented, 19th Century Passamaquoddy / Maliseet at the McCord Museum in Montreal.

Image Courtesy Dot Bonnenfant
Heritage Paddles

Dot was also commissioned to make a paddle as a presentation gift for the 2007 Heritage Rivers Conference -  Bill Mason Award. This paddle was presented to well known Canadian Wilderness Guide, Author and Artist, Hap Wilson.  Her design was inspired by aboriginal bead and porcupine quill work. Years ago, I got a chance to see this paddle up close when Hap was visiting the Toronto Outdoor Adventure show. The textured burning was amazing requiring a very steady hand and much artistry.

Image Courtesy Dot Bonnenfant
Heritage Paddles

Not just limited to abstract designs, Dot has also done burnings of an ancient art form known to many canoe trippers...petroglyph artwork. The paddle set below was made as a wedding present for a family who have canoed and camped near petroglyph sites in Ontario.

Image Courtesy Dot Bonnenfant
Heritage Paddles

As an aside, Selwyn Dewdney's 1962 publication, Indian Rock Paintings of the Great Lakes is available for full preview on The book is one of the most detailed works on petroglyph art in paddling country and contains many images along with some of their interpretive meanings.

More of Dot's inspirational burnings can be seen on her Facebook Page. For anyone seeking a truly unique paddle gift from a master woodburning artist, the contact info for Heritage Paddles can be found here.

Friday, April 8, 2016

A much needed book on canoe restoration - This Old Canoe by Mike Elliot

Anyone with a true love for wood canvas construction will appreciate the recent efforts by Mike Elliot of Kettle River Canoes. I've been a devoted reader of Mike's blog for many years now since it first came out in 2009. Over the years, Mike has been generously sharing detailed tips and guidance on everything related to canoe restoration. His brief web posts have been a valuable resource to folks who have wanted to tackle a repair on their own boats, especially when online information regarding canoe restoration can been hard to find for the first timer or those intimidated by the job.

Mike has now taken some of these web writings as well as his more detailed personal notes from years of wood canvas restoration and compiled them into an organized and well prepared book. The official Canadian launch date for This Old Canoe: How To Restore Your Wood-Canvas Canoe  is set for April 15, 2016.  I was fortunate to receive an advanced copy to review and share with readers here.

This Old Canoe book specifications:
8.5″ x 11″ paperback
192 pages
$24.95 USD ($32.95 CAD)

There are just a few published resources out there to aid anyone wishing to attempt their own repair or restoration job. Most sources, like The Wood & Canvas Canoe by Rollin Thurlow and Jerry Stelmok (published 1987) focus overwhelmingly on building a craft from scratch, including the complexities of making the initial form. Thurlow & Stelmok's book contains a well written chapter on the basic steps for canoe repair but space limitations and few visual aids certainly leave the amateur woodworker wanting more specific details.

Back issues of Wooden Canoe, the Journal of the Wooden Canoe Heritage Association, have featured many different attempts and solutions to restoration since their first edition from back in 1979. The WCHA forums are wealth of information and friendly advice but both sources require plenty of time and research to dig through all the information in order to find the specific guidance you might need.

This Old Canoe is the only book currently published which is entirely devoted to the complex topic of restoration. As such, Mike has been able to cram wonderful tips and lengthy, precise details into a very useful reference publication.  In addition, there are over 300 photos (black and white) that provide much needed visual assistance on the most common repair jobs of wood canvas canoes.

Below is a preview of the Table of Contents where chapters have been logically arranged in the same order as one would follow for an actual restoration.

A sample section has been made available for preview (.PDF format). The first chapter, Getting Ready, covers the basic terminology of canoe parts, discusses necessary safety equipment and thoroughly delves through the relevant tools, adhesives and finishes for a complete job. The detailed write-up on fasteners is particularly useful as it clearly organizes the varying size info on canoe tacks, screws, carriage bolts and nails into easy to read charts. For the new restorer, this takes the confusion and guesswork out of the appropriate fastener for each specific job.

Also useful in Chapter 2 is Mike's 57-step checklist of how to approach a thorough restoration. Of course, not every canoe will require a total overhaul such as this, but having a complete sequence of events allows the reader to plan appropriately and ensure things are done in the proper order without having to backtrack and redo areas of concern.

One area very prone to rot and decay with improperly stored canoes are the stem ends and deck tips. Chapter 4 details the methodology of repairing this section with sequences of clear photos to assist in the job. Most canoe manufacturers had their own system of joinery for the stems and decks. The chapter here deals with the common method used by Peterborough and The Chestnut Canoe Company which makes sense given that these are the most common wood canvas canoes found here in Canada. While the stem/deck joinery of other wood canvas brands are not shown, nearly all the steps and principles documented are the same regardless of the canoe's origins. As a plus, there is a page devoted to various canoe deck designs used by many different companies if one wished to replicate the original shape.

Canvassing a canoe may seem like a daunting task, but the book once again covers the process in a practical manner, inspiring confidence in the first time restorer. The initial setup described in Chapter 7 might look complicated at first, but the illustrations and details of the author's preferred methodology (canoe right side up, slung in a stretched canvas hammock) make it seem straight forward. The detailed illustration of Mike's clamping system used to tightly hold the canvas ends while stretching is particularly useful.

As already inferred, the book is real visual treat. It also includes 70 different plans and illustrations for items such as useful jigs, seat frames and a traditional Chestnut Canoe Co. centre yoke. The lengthy chapter on constructing both cane and babiche style seats has detailed dimensional info for the frames and useful sequential photos of the weaving pattern. Usually, learning this method involves sourcing out other books on weaving cane for chair seats or rawhide weaving for snowshoes.

A practical discussion of canvas filler, finishing techniques and varnishing help encourage the reader that their beloved canoe is nearing the end its restoration. Paint formulations for three iconic canoe colours (Chesnut Red, Chesnut Green and Chesnut Grey) are provided so that anyone can obtain them at a local paint store. A necessary chapter on care, maintenance and proper storage of a wood canvas canoe ensures that the restorer's efforts are not in vain. It includes schematics for a basic wall mounted storage rack and a pulley lift system for those wishing to save floor space by hoisting their canoe.

Mike's final chapter, Restorer's Guide features wonderful graphical summaries of a variety of Canadian made canoes - Chesnut / Peterborough, Huron, Tremblay and Greenwood.  These include all the relevant dimensional info needed to restore the canoe back to the original as close as possible and are valuable reference sheets..

Squeezed between all this valuable technical information, the author has included a few personal experiences about restoration jobs, including some horror stories of trees landing on canoes or canoes flying off roof racks onto hard pavement. Ouch! These interesting little diversions certainly show that almost any wood canvas canoe can be repairable using the principles and techniques showcased in the book.
For anyone feeling intimidated by the work involved in restoring a beloved watercraft,  This Old Canoe provides a wealth of useful information and guidance in the form of an inspiring instructional manual. It fills a much needed gap in publications about wood canvas canoes and would be a valuable addition to any workshop collection. Thanks to Mike Elliot's devoted efforts, hopefully the world will see more vintage wood-canvas canoes restored to their former glory and being paddled as they were always meant to be.

This Old Canoe book specifications:
8.5″ x 11″ paperback
192 pages
more than 300 photographs
more than 70 plans and illustrations
$24.95 USD ($32.95 CAD)

Order through:

Thursday, April 7, 2016

An Allagash River Souvenir: Mid-to-Late 1800s Penobscot Paddle

Blog reader, Thomas Penniston has graciously sent in details of his recent paddle acquisition from an estate in California. A mid-to-late 1800s beavertail-bladed paddle with an elegantly carved step style grip commonly seen on Penobscot paddles (see similar examples here and here).

Length: 75.5" long
Max Blade Width:  7 3/8" 

What makes this one special is that the blade is adorned with decorative drawings commemorating a 300 mile canoe trip taken in 1916 on the Allagash River in Maine. The understanding is that this old paddle belonged to a local Penobscot guide hired by the group who either sold them the paddle, or presented it to them to adorn with memories about their trip.

One side of the blade features a scene with a party of canoeists encountering some whitewater. The drawing is labeled "In Cross Rock Rapids". Each of the passengers in the canoes are also identified with tiny script below but some of the names are tough to make out. The last canoe in the sequence features a standing stern paddler, something only an accomplished guide would be doing. The paddle's overall dimensions of 75.5" long with a hefty  7-3/8" blade width would certainly make it suitable as a user for paddling standing up.

The upper portion of the blade as well as the other side features what looks the full list of names all written in different handwriting. The members of the canoe party likely signed their own names once their adventure was complete.

There are few more images of characters, including the image of someone landing a monster fish (relative to the size of the canoe). It seems exaggerating the fishing on a canoe trip is a timeless tradition as well.

Many thanks to Tom for permission to repost some of his photos and providing additional details. The full set of pics with further closeups can be seen on his PictureTrail gallery.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

David G's new paddles

Paddle maker and woodworker extraordinaire David Gendron of Au Nord du Nord Woodwork has been working on more creations. One of them consisted of repairing a broken shaft and splicing in a new grip of his wife's favourite paddle. David came up with a new custom grip design that looks marvelous and very functional...

New splice custom grip

Repaired Paddle

He also carved a new paddle in Birch. It features a large blade with a wide handle and distinct spines on each end that balance the paddle nicely. David's use of bright colours with varnish make his paddles sparkle!

Birch paddle - Malecite inspired
Length: 66", Blade: 28"x6.25"
Weight: 1.05kg. Reinforced tip. 

Grip Closeup

Here is a paddle he completed for his niece. Lucky her! A vertical grain Sitka Spruce paddle.

Sitka Spruce
Length 54"
Blade: 25"x5.5"
Weight 0.420kg 

Blade closeup

More of David's creative work can be seen on his Facebook page and his Pinterest page on paddles. 

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Historic Paddle Photo: Ojibwe woman in bark canoe - Bureau of American Ethnology

Here is a photo of an Ojibwe woman using a gripless pole paddle while attending to some ricing chores...

Source:    Plate LXX
Nineteenth Annual report of the Bureau of American Ethnology
  Published 1897-1898

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