Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Historic Paddle Photo: Admiral Digby Museum Collection

A photograph in the graphic collections of the Admiral Digby Museum in Nova Scotia features a paddler about to embark in his canoe. The closed gunnel canvas canoe is a real beauty. Likewise, the paddle has pretty shape with a simple flattened grip.

Title: Man standing by boat looking at it. 
Admiral Digby Museum
Accession number: 1980.25.59
As per their Educational Usage Policy

Friday, November 25, 2016

Book Review - Canoes: A Natural History in North America

I was fortunate to receive a review copy of a highly anticipated book set for release in November 2016.  Canoes: A Natural History in North America by Mark Neuzil and Norman Sims is a richly illustrated hardcover containing a whopping 416 pages of content to satisfy the interest of canoe lovers everywhere.

A Natural History in North America

Mark Neuzil and Norman Sims
Foreword by John McPhee
$39.95 cloth/jacket ISBN 978-0-8166-8117-4
416 pages, 95 b&w plates, 228 color plates, 10 x 8, November 2016

The style of the book takes one on a formal history lesson of the canoe in the Americas. Beginning with the story of various dugout forms, the book continues with the evolution of the birchbark and the subsequent transition to all wood canoes of the late 1800s. The natural progression to wood canvas canoes sets the stage for the era of aluminum craft and today's modern marvels engineered with industrial chemical synthetics. At each stage, one begins to realize that the basic form of the canoe has remained timeless but generational "improvements" in materials have been the defining feature of the craft.

Hardcore canoeists often view the world in paddling metaphors. Reading through each chapter felt like an adventurous backcountry journey, sometime through familiar territory, but with pleasant surprises along the way. The over 300 illustrative plates (some never before published) offered plenty of visual diversions, not unlike the excitement of spotting elusive wildlife on a trip. Historical maps, classic artworks and rare photographs had this reader frequently pausing  to take in the visual feast. Interspersed amongst the general text are short 2-3 page essays on various satellite topics such as "Canoe Sails", "Canoe Patents", "Canoes in Wartime" . These breaks felt like literary portages, a chance to get off the main route a bit and stretch your legs on the trail.

Published by the University of Minnesota Press, the book does have the obvious feel of being heavily American influenced to this Canadian observer. Of course, we Canadians have often arrogantly hijacked the canoe as our own national symbol but the book does the craft justice in representing the canoe as having a truly North American story.

Of particular interest to this reader was the writeup on the world's oldest known bark canoe, now at the Canadian Canoe Museum. Previous posts on the topic have been featured on the site here and here. The most detailed description of this vessel was written by  legendary bark canoe builder, Henri Vaillancourt and appeared in Wooden Boat Magazine (Sept/Oct 2011 - Issue 222 - Page 72). A bit of a shame that more detailed photographs of this historic craft were not included in the brief excerpt of the book.  

As a bit of consolation however, a beautiful colour photo of another aged birchbark canoe (rarely available for public view) has been reproduced in its full glory. The famed "1826 Penobscot Canoe" in the collection of The Peabody Essex Museum, Massachusetts was the subject of a restoration and construction analysis in 1947. The resulting article published in  The American Neptune (Vol VIII, No. 4, 1948) has been graciously reprinted with permission online by the WCHA. It was a real treat to see this elegant craft in full colour after being exposed to only grainy black and white photos from the past. 

When I first read the table of contents on the book's press release page, I was ecstatic that Chapter 7: Canoes and the Human-Powered Movement contained a subtitle for "Paddles". Working under the assumption that a detailed discussion of paddle forms with perhaps photos of historically significant paddles would be on display, the teasingly short, 2 page write-up contained few photos or satisfactory information on this rich topic. Granted, the focus of the book is obviously the watercraft, but just as canoes have evolved over the centuries, the paddles that have propelled them have as well. To this obviously biased paddlemaker, it was akin to seeing a bunch of meticulously restored vintage cars without their engines on display.  

These very minor short-comings aside, this new publication adds fresh perspectives and novel content to the topic. Given that paddling season is now over for most of us in North America, the timely release of the book will allow us to go on a very satisfying literary expedition over the winter. No matter what era of the canoe story you might have a special spot for, this book will certainly take a cherished place in your library collection.

About the authors:
• Mark Neuzil is professor of communication and journalism at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota. He is the author, coauthor, or editor of seven books and a frequent writer and speaker on environmental themes. A former wilderness guide and summer park ranger, Neuzil is an avid outdoorsman who began canoeing in the 1960s with his family. He is a past board member of the Society of Environmental Journalists and Friends of the Mississippi River.

 • Norman Sims is a retired honors professor from the University of Massachusetts Amherst and a past president of the International Association for Literary Journalism Studies. This is his sixth book. A longtime whitewater canoeist and an active member of both the Appalachian Mountain Club and the Wooden Canoe Heritage Association, Sims has a small collection of antique Morris wood-and-canvas canoes. 

• John McPhee is the author of more than thirty books, including Encounters with the Archdruid (1971), The Survival of the Bark Canoe (1975), and Coming into the Country (1977). Since 1963, his articles and all of his books have appeared in The New Yorker magazine. He received the Award in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 1977, and was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Annals of the Former World in 1999. He lives in Princeton, New Jersey.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

William Armstrong Inspired Ash Paddle

It's been an enjoyable fall working on some more paddles in the backyard workshop. This next one was carved out of narrow plank of ash. The limitations of the board meant that this design would have a slender 4-1/4" blade. Had a chance to test this one out on the earlier Toronto Islands Daytrip to get a feel for it. The shaft felt a little too bulky so it was worked down a bit more.

Also finally purchased a cabinet scraper to help with the finishing stages. After multiple wettings it was scraped downed and then sanded with 320. Never really liked the open grain feel of ash but with this extra work, it is much smoother.

As for decoration, I felt like doing something simple and once again looked back into history for some inspiration.  A common theme seen in many historic paintings is a red checkered pattern on the paddle blade.

Paddle image from A View near Point Levy opposite Quebec with an Indian Encampment, Taken in 1788 
Thomas Davies (1737 - 1812)

Decorated Paddles from Indian Encampment near Amherstburg, c. 1819-1830
William Bent Berczy
Original Post Link

This paddle pattern is most apparent in multiple artworks by William Armstrong (1822–1914) that have been posted about many times on the site.

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

Paddle image from Indians Completing a Portage
William Armstrong
1873 watercolor

Paddle from Hudson's Bay Store, Fort William
William Armstrong
c. 1860-1870

Anyway, I had some left over Regal Red Tremclad rust paint left over from repainting the 14' Chestnut / Peterborough earlier in the summer so thought I would put it to use here. This oil-based waterproof paint doesn't need a topcoat of varnish which works well given that I prefer to oil all my paddles.

My older son was interested in helping so he assisted in laying out some tape. Painting has never been my strong suite or favoured medium and there's no way I could replicate the clean lines otherwise .

As an extra bit of decoration, I also painted part of the elongated grip...

It still needs to be oiled which will turn the plain ash into a much more golden hue but the weather outside has turned.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Historic Paddle Illustration: Cockburn's Mi'kmaq Encampment at Point Levis

Here's another illustration of a Mi'kmaq paddle from a painting by James Pattison Cockburn. Mi'kmaq encampment at Point Levis, Quebec dates to around 1840. The foreground features a paddle leaning against a birchbark wigwam.

Painting | Mi'kmaq encampment at Point Levis, Quebec | M1821
Mi'kmaq encampment at Point Levis, Quebec
James Pattison Cockburn (1779-1847)
About 1840, 19th century
30.5 x 51.5 cm
Gift of Mr. David Ross McCord
© McCord Museum

It seems many artists chose to paint this location and made note of the Mi'kmaq encampments in the area. You can contrast Cockburn's rendition to two other artists by viewing this previous post.  In my opinion, Cockburn represented the paddle shape much more accurately.

Paddle Closeup

Tappan Adney illustrated what a typical Mi'kmaq paddle looked like in the mid-to-late 19th century after noting that earlier paddles seem to lack handles and just had a pole-style grip. Here's a Mi'kmaq paddle from Figure 59 in Bark Canoes and Skin Boats of North America.
Paddle from Figure 59
Bark Canoes and Skin Boats of North America  

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Late 19th century unfinished Birch Penobscot

Traditional paddle maker Luc Poitras has come across a fine looking antique paddle for sale on Ebay and sent the info to post on the blog. The seller claims it is a 19th century Penobscot paddle carved in birch. Below is the seller's description:
A Penobscot Native American (Indian) canoe paddle carved in birch. It is a classic form, but more elegant and graceful than usual. The handsome surface is untouched, and some of the tool marks from its construction are still on the blade. It is 63-1/4" long by 4-7/8" wide. There is a bit of wear and roughness at the bottom of the blade, but no other condition issues.

The seller has also postings for a variety of other ethnographic items worth looking at, including many crooked knives and birchbark baskets with porcupine quill decoration.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Innu Paddles - Virtual Museum of Canada

The Virtual Museum exhibit, Tipatshimuna - Innu Stories from the Land features a variety of Innu artifacts in various museum collections. While scrolling through the collection gallery, I came across two model paddles in the collection of The Rooms  Archive, Art Gallery and Museum in St. John's, Newfoundland.

Here's the description of the first paddle:
Wooden carving of a single bladed paddle. Blade has both faces ridged, sides slanted. Arm of paddle (approximately 10.0 cm long) widens at end. Blade decorated with three sets of red parallel lines. Tip also painted red. 
Culture: Barren Ground Innu
Institution: The Rooms, Provincial Museum Division
Place made: unknown
Maker: unknown
Collector: unknown
Date Collected: unknown

A second similar model paddle is also in their collection.
Wooden carving of a single bladed paddle. Blade has both faces ridged. Sides are slanted and the tip is rounded. Arm of paddle tapered, widening a little at the end, edge rounded. Blade decorated with two blue bands approximately 3 apart), one band bordered by red triangular pattern.
Culture: Barren Ground Innu
Institution: The Rooms, Provincial Museum Division
Place made: unknown
Maker: unknown
Collector: unknown
Date Collected: unknown

Similarly shaped and decorated paddles have been documented before. The Material culture of the Davis Inlet and Barren Ground Naskapi outlines enthographic items collected by William Duncan Strong from the Davis Inlet and Barren Ground Naskapi (Innu) in 1927-1928. Plate 49 (pg 89) features a diagram of 4 decorated such Innu paddles.

Naskapi Paddles in the Strong Collection
Source Link

Thursday, November 10, 2016

1913 Photo - Two wooden paddles, Malecite culture

Found an old photo of a pair of Maliseet paddles in the Library and Archives of Canada. Unfortunately no details of the age of the paddles, but the photo itself dates from 1913.

Two wooden paddles, Malecite culture [graphic material]
Control no. 25462
CD File no. CD95-870-020
Sapir, Edward, 1884-1939. 
Publisher / Date 1913
Summary "Wooden paddles, Malecite; 1913".
[Extrait des notes d'Edward Sapir = From Edward Sapir's notes]

Monday, November 7, 2016

Historic Paddle Art: Illustrated London News - Fisheries Exhibit Sketch

From this Ebay Link is an engraving of entitled "SKETCHES AT THE INTERNATIONAL FISHERIES EXHIBITION" published in The Illustrated London News June 2nd, 1883.

A closeup of sketch 9, "Indians fishing, (model from Canada)" showcases the classic Mi'kmaq humped canoe with a stern paddler and the bowman preparing to spear some Salmon)

9. Indians fishing, (model from Canada) 

Figure 11 has a different canoe and is labelled as a "Milicete Indian in his fishing canoe"

A Milicete Indian in his fishing canoe

The International Fisheries Exhibition of 1883 seems to have been quite a global affair. Another author, Frederick Whymper, documented some of the Canadian representatives in his book  Fisheries of the World : an Illustrated and Descriptive Record of the International Fisheries Exhibition, 1883. The sketch below is believed to be that of famed Maliseet Guide, Gabe Tomah.


"Indian in Birch Canoe, Fisheries Exhibition "
 Whymper, F. Fisheries of the World : an Illustrated and Descriptive Record of the International Fisheries Exhibition.  London : Cassell : Co.: Limited, 1883.
 Page 96

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Fixing an old failure - scarfing a grip onto a sassafras northwoods - Part 1

Here's an update on an old paddle failure. Back in 2012, I was working on my first sassafras paddle made from a thick 8/4 board, the only size I could source at the time. The inspiration for the paddle was a specimen in the Hudson Museum in Maine featuring a graceful, segmented grip

Hudson Museum Paddles
(Photo Credit: Bob Holtzman)

My blank had been crudely cut out with a wonky bandsaw, but the bulk of the work was going to be removing the stock with an axe and crooked knife.

The segmented grip was being worked down with a crooked knife and rasp...

Everything was going well when I had the urge to check the flex. The thinned out lower grip snapped at the base!

I was quite disappointed at this point and didn't want the paddle remnants to go to waste, so in the end both pieces were kept in the hopes of re-purposing them somehow. The grip was stored inside since it felt quite comfortable and I wanted to keep it as a future template. After mulling around for ideas to re-use the blade, it was, in the end, just relegated to a garden ornament...a kind of  paddle tombstone for a failed project.

However, earlier this summer there was an informative post on paddle repairs over on CanotRouge (aka David G) uploaded a series of photos of a repair on his wife's favourite paddle. It had also snapped at the base of the grip and he set about repairing it with a scarf joint in a professional manner. It has apparently held up well so this was very encouraging in my own case.

Anyway, the paddle blade was yanked out of the garden where it has weathered into a antique grey patina but came out without any sign of rot. The grip was pulled out of indoor storage and the two setup on the garden shed to represent what could've been...

With a scrap piece of sassafras cut from more recent projects, a plan was hatched to try a scarf repair like David's.

Using a mitre saw, I cut the steepest angle I could manage. Here is a shot of the scarf joint clamped up...

The glue-up went well and it seems to be very strong. A new grip will be sketched out and reshaped soon.

DECEMBER 2016 Update: New grip has been shaped out. See post # 2 in series HERE.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Logan Museum Odawa Paddle Online

The Logan Museum of Anthropology - Beloit College has updated their online artifacts catalog to include new color photos of the circa 1900 Odawa paddle in their collection. Up until now, the only images were grainy black and white photo from an out of print exhibition catalog (see my previous post here).

Ottawa Canoe Paddle
Length: 136.5cm
Blade width: 10cm

As I haven't yet obtained permission to post these new colour photos, I'll leave you with a link to the paddle's citation page where closeups of the surface can be viewed. The paddle is listed under Catalog # 30182 .

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Sassafras Tripper = latest paddle in gallery

Managed to take a final "finished" photo of the recently completed Sassafras Tripper after coating it with a few coats of oil.  It's also been added to the Gallery on the Paddle Image Archive Page.

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