Friday, March 23, 2018

Neuchatel Canoe Model Paddle Replica

A few examples of North American native paddle designs exist in European museums today owing to a robust souvenir industry in the 18th century. Huron (Wendat), Mohawk. Algonquin and Abenaki converts from the Catholic mission villages along the Saint Lawrence River collaborated with local nuns to manufacture "tourist art". The First Nations women would work to make model bark canoes and other material accessories. Older traditions of wooden dollmaking were refined by the use of wax to model the faces. In turn, the nuns utilized their traditions of fine needlework and embroidery to make miniature clothing in the mixed European - Native style fashionable in the region at that time.

A few of these model canoes have been mentioned earlier on this site. The 1760 Chartres Canoe, the 1760 Farquharson model, the 1794 Rennes canoe and the Mashantucket Pequot model canoe. Each had decorated canoes with equally ornamented paddles.

Another canoe model dated to 1799 has a much more simple (and realistic) decorative elements. The model was acquired  by a Swiss tourist, Jeanne Elisabeth Gugy for the curio collection of an associate in her hometown, Count Charles de Meuron. It was eventually became part of the collection of the  Musée D'ethnographie de Neuchâtel.

Musee d'ethnographie. Neuchatel. Switzerland IV.A.30

The bark hull has been left plain and with the thwarts, gunnels, decks and upper stems painted in a red-brown earth paint. Two male figures and two female figures are seen the posed in the hull. A paddle is visible in the stern and has a simple checkered pattern of green, yellow, and red/brown paint.

Male Figurine with decorated paddle - before 1799 
Musee d'ethnographie. Neuchatel. Switzerland IV.A.30

Obscured by the sail is another figure also holding a decorated paddle - a narrow blade with elongated flattened grip and a simple blade decoration of chevrons and dots.

Female Figurine with decorated paddle - before 1799 
Musee d'ethnographie. Neuchatel. Switzerland IV.A.30

I decided to create large reproduction of the latter example. At the time, I had some basswood cutoffs and managed to laminate these waste pieces to create a short blank. In the end I ended up with a 53" paddle after extrapolating dimensions from this miniature model while trying to maintain the scale. The original had some sort of darkened paint on the long grip, but I had a hard time discerning the shade. In my version, I simply charred the surface with a propane torch and sanded smooth. The remaining blue and red paint on the blade had a very thinned, transparent look so an attempt was made to mimic this excessively thinning the oil-based Tremclad paints I have on hand. In keeping with the handpainted tradition of the original amateur artist, I just free handed the dots and chevron decorations

  Neuchatel model paddle replica 

Being a short paddle, I think this one will get minimal usage but it'll still be a neat experience using a 200+ year old design.

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