Sunday, October 20, 2019

c.1914 Smithsonian Chippewa Knotty Spruce Paddle Replica

It's been over 10 years since I built a small birchbark canoe and the spruce board building bed has been sitting idle in the cottage garage since then. With space running out, a decision was made to cut up and use some of of the wood and see if more paddles could be carved. Back then, the boards were simply selected for to be free of warping. Plenty of knots didn't matter. As such, there really wasn't any clear sections with grain ideally suited to an attractive looking paddle.

However, I recall posting about a paddle described as a "Chippewa Woman's Paddle" listed in a dated publication from the Smithsonian's Bureau of American Ethnology.

Bureau of American Ethnology
BULLETIN 86 - Chippewa Customs
Plate 53

The original caption from the bulletin also included the following description:
The specimen illustrated is a woman's canoe paddle (pl. 53, a) and is 4 feet 10 inches long, with blade 22 inches long and 4 1/4 inches wide. A man's paddle is usually heavier, longer, and of a somewhat different shape...

The Smithsonian also has the original black & white photo used in the publication. While the bulletin and article was published in 1929, the archival record mentions the photo is dated to 1914.

Creator:   ANONYMOUS
Title:   Canoe paddle (left) and snow shovel (right)
Provenance:   Submitted by Frances Densmore.
Culture:   Chippewa, Ojibwa Indians
Local Number:   NAA INV 9277300
OPPS NEG 596 D 79

This 100+ year old knotty paddle was the inspiration needed to use some of the plank boards. I started with a 60inch piece of the board and used a saw to cut various stop cuts along the shaft and blade. Then hacking away with the axe, the basic paddle shape emerged...

The blade was also thinned down with an axe and then the rest worked down with my home-made crooked knife that has served well over the years. The knots certainly dulled the blade and made carving a bit tricky, but in a leisurely afternoon a functional paddle emerged from the wood stock.

In keeping with the rough nature of the original inspiration, I smooth the carving as best as I could but left all the knife marks on the paddle. It won't be sealed so it the surface can develop a weathered patina, but a description of the paddle has been burned onto the blade face...

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