Monday, November 19, 2018

Historic Paddle Photo: Madrid Columbia Expo 1892

The Historical American Exposition (also known as the Columbian Historical Exposition) was held held in Madrid in 1892-1893 to mark the four hundredth year of the "discovery" of America. Part of the exhibit included a full sized birch bark canoe featuring two mannequins and accessories. The canoe and its model inhabitants are briefly mentioned on page 184 of the 1895 Report of the United States commission to the Columbian historical exposition at Madrid. The display is described as follows:
Canoe of birch bark. — Manned by two Algonkian Indians, occupied in fishing with the harpoon. They wear dresses of buckskin, with painted figures imitating embroidery. In fishing with the harpoon it is necessary that a fisherman should guide the canoe in accordance with the orders of the one who handles the harpoon. The canoe is made of a large piece of birch bark, attached to a wooden frame; the seams and holes are calked with spruce-pine rosin. These canoes are very light and of a graceful form. Two men can carry one of them on their shoulders for a stretch of many miles, which they do at rapids. The canoe exhibited was constructed by the Algonkian Indians of Canada.

Plates II and III feature grainy images of the display where the canoe seems to suspended from the ceiling and the mannequins are forming a scene. The bowman holds a harpoon at the ready while a stern paddler guides the canoe from the rear. Better resolution photos are found on the Smithsonian Archives site:

Columbian Historical Exposition in Madrid, Spain
ID: SIA2011-1444 or 91-17920
October 31, 1892 - January 31, 1893
Citation: Smithsonian Institution Archives, Record Unit 95, Box 64, Folder: 2


Columbian Historical Exposition in Madrid, Spain
October 31, 1892 - January 31, 1893
ID: SIA2011-1442 or 91-17922
Citation: Smithsonian Institution Archives, Record Unit 95, Box 64, Folder: 2


Searching through the Smithsonian's collections, the very canoe used in this exhibit is in their online database. It is listed as USNM NUMBER: E160340-0;  a Passamaquoddy canoe collected in 1871 from Eastport Maine.

DONOR NAME: Accession Number Unknown 
COLLECTOR: Dr. Edward Palmer 
HEIGHT: 61cm
DEPTH: 33cm
CULTURE: Passamaquoddy 
PLACE: Eastport, Washington County, Maine, United States, North America
USNM NUMBER: E160340-0

Unfortunately, no details of the mannequins, paddles or harpoon seem to have been kept. I've been vigorously searching the archives for more detail on the stern paddle featured in the display but have yet to find a paddle in the collection that resembles the one in the photo with its distinct ridged grip face.

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