Friday, April 27, 2018

WCHA Assembly

The 2018 Wooden Canoe Heritage Association Assembly is finally back in Canada this summer and will be in nearby Peterborough, Ontario  July 17-22. The theme for this year's Assembly is the iconic Chestnut Canoe Company. I'll be bringing by 14 foot Chesnut Playmate to get some feedback from the experts regarding a thorough restoration.

The full Pdf format files of the Schedule along with a listing of program descriptions are now online. Becky Mason will be there discussing her famous father's paddling legacy. Ken Buck, the camera man for Bill Mason's canoeing films will be discussing his behind-the-lens perspective.  Guide book author, Kevin Callan (of Happy Camper fame) will be leading a paddling tour of the nearby Indian River. In addition, Mike Elliot author of This Old Canoe will be here from the West Coast to discuss Chesnut canoe restoration.  Expert Canoe Historian, Dick Persson of Buckhorn Canoe Company will be revealing some of the more esoteric history of the Chesnut Canoe Company.

Saturday's schedule might be of specific interest for anyone curious about paddles. Graham Warren, whose books and videos on the subject of paddle making have been a major inspiration in my own paddle carving journey, will be making the journey from the U.K. University of Guelph Engineering Professor, John Runciman will be discussing his findings of research into traditional aboriginal paddle shapes and performance. Along with these two experts, I've been aksed to discuss historic paddle decoration to round out the theme.

As such, I've been slowly working on a portable paddle display to showcase some of the paddles featuring in historic artworks and museums. More on that in a future post...

Friday, April 20, 2018

Codex Canadensis Odawa Paddle Replica - Part 1

One of the earliest recorded images of decorated woodland canoe paddles is from the remarkably illustrated manuscript,  Codex canadensis. A previous post (from way back in 2008) mentioned that Collections Canada has a site setup to view all the illustrations in this piece of Canadian heritage.

For many years, the Codex canadensis was attributed to Charles B├ęcart de Grandville (1675-1703), but given more historical evidence, this attribution is no longer considered valid. The manuscript is now believed to have been by Louis Nicolas , a French missionary who spent 11 years in Canada during the late-seventeenth  century. The codex is illustrated with 180 drawings of First Nations peoples, plants, mammals, birds and fish of Canada.

The Art Canada Institute has a wonderfully illustrated, free online book about the Jesuit Missionary and discusses details of his artwork.

Most relevant is the realization that the author was never trained an an artist so he copied the outlines of his figures from other sources, a practice common at the time. However, Nicholas took great care to illustrate details of his own observations, such as body tattoos, hairstyles, clothing as well as as accessories such as as the tobacco pouches, weapons and most relevant to this site, canoes and paddles. It is these details that make it a relevant ethnographic source for the time period.

Nicolas made all his drawings in pen and ink  using a feather quill. The ink commonly used at the time was iron gall ink from iron salts and tannic acids from vegetable sources like oak. In its fresh state the ink had purple-black or brown-black colour, but over time, the the ink has taken on a warm nutty-brown shade. Some of the images were also carefully stained with a reddish watercolour.

Pages 15 to 18 of the manuscript contain the images of various tribal canoes and paddles.

 Page 15

 Page 15

Quite interesting is that Nicholas illustrated the canoes and paddles with some painted decorations. Gunnels on the canoes were stained red, a feature that is also present on many surviving model canoes from decades later, like the Neuchatel Model. Paddles were also enhanced with common red colour, easily available as either native ochre earth paints or as a trade item such as Vermillion powder.

Since Nicholas was never trained as a formal artist, the proportions of his illustrations are not to scale. The paddle blades are also crudely drawn and not symmetrical but it is interesting to note that nearly all of his drawings show no discernible grip end.

The paddle illustration I chose to replicate is depicted on Page 18 of the Codex canadensis. The upper canoe is labelled "Canot a loutaouase" - an Odawa (Ottawa) canoe. It has distinctly sharp ends along with various decorations on the hull. The paddle features a relatively broad, leaf-like blade with a tapering shaft ending in a pole grip.

Close-up of Fig. 23
Outaouase (Odawa) canoe and paddle

I have a short piece of basswood stock that seems perfect for this reproduction. More in another post...

UPDATE: Outaouase paddle has been carved and completed. Click HERE for the link.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Historic Paddle Illustration: Encampment of Voyageurs

Another piece of artwork from Francis Anne Hopkins (1838-1919). This smaller watercolour clearly showcases the light blue coloured paddles standing out on the rocky shoreline.

Encampment of Voyageurs.  
Credit: Library and Archives Canada,
Acc. No. R9266-277
Peter Winkworth Collection of Canadiana
Copyright: Expired

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

McCord Museum 19th Century Eastern Woodlands Paddle Replica

Artifact M5470 at the McCord Museum is a beautifully decorated, 19th century paddle. It has been identified as "Eastern Woodlands" (either Passamaquoddy or Maliseet) and features an array of painted double-curve motifs as well as a divided black and white blade tip.

Anonyme - Anonymous
Eastern Woodlands
Aboriginal: Maliseet or Passamaquoddy
1875-1900, 19th century
11.4 x 150 cm
Gift of Mr. Hobart William Molson
 McCord Museum

Many years ago, I adapted the decorative pattern for a yellow birch paddle with a more narrow blade profile. This time I tried to be true to the original design and replicate with paint and stains despite painting not being my strong suit.

At 150cm (59 inches), the original paddle was already near to my preferred paddle length so adjustments weren't necessary. As before, I had a piece of Yellow Birch stock to use up. Yellow Birch can be unpredictable sometimes when carving or hewing with an axe. This piece went well except for a small bit of tear-out by the throat. As a consequence, I had to use a little bit of Quikwood Epoxy putty to fill in the tear, but most of the damage would eventually be covered by paint.

Epoxy putty repair to throat

I've been experimenting with painting using oil-based Tremclad paints which are available in smaller sample sizes.  Of course the modern formula isn't like traditional oil-based paints used in the 19th century and mixing up authentic batches is beyond my skill set. These rust paints flow thick and harden to a waterproof finish so the paddle can ultimately be oiled rather than varnished. I ended up using some Flat Black, Recreational White (a cream colour), Fire Red and a custom green made by mixing their Yellow with a dark blue spray paint I had on hand.

Painted blade

In addition,  the blade of the original paddle seems to have darkened compared to the shaft. To mimic this effect, I used Minwax Gel Stain (chestnut) after finishing the paint job.

McCord Replica Blade - stained

The shaft was left natural and the whole paddle oiled. Here is the final result...

McCord Museum 19th Century Replica 

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