OK, I promised that this blog would be about Native art and I plan on making good on that pledge. This month, I will be at Fort Niagara for a living history weekend. I owe a debt of gratitude to one of the organizers for proposing an actual goal for the event. We will be working on carving 18th c canoe paddles. It is quite common for the long winter months for such work to occur in both forts and in Native villages.
I have made quite a few paddles in the past for myself and for our display at Ganondagan but it has been at least three years since I made a new one. This caused me to review what I had already compiled on the subject. I opened my files again and began to mentally prepare myself for the project.
My personal challenge when reproducing a historic object is to combine three forms of evidence. I like to have an image from the time period and region depicting the object in use if possible, a written description of the same, and finally an extant object of equal importance. This is not always possible in every instance but it is my goal none the less. I try and avoid "building motorcycles from oil stains" to borrow a phrase from my favorite T.V. show "American Pickers"...
For the first criteria, I will use excerpts from the Montreal Merchants Records which are housed in the Canadian National Archives. They are an amazing record of the types of commercial transactions which commonly occurred in the late 17th and 18th centuries in Nouvelle France.
|Unkown Artist, Algonquin Couple,Ville de Montreal|
Note the "ball" grip, fully painted style, and flat-ish shape of the blade.
|A View near Point Levy opposite Quebec with an Indian Encampment Thomas Davies, 1788|
In the foreground we see a Native man standing with his paddle before him. The paddle has a nice painted, leaf-shaped blade.
|image from the Codex Canadiensis by Fr. Louis Nicholas circa 1700|
|Note the standing paddle stance and decorated paddle.|
|More decorated paddles as well as four different regional bark canoe styles - note the elm-bark Iroquois canoe second from the top, as well as a skin-covered kayak with its double-bladed paddle at the very top.|
|Cree paddle 1770-1775 associated with George Holt from the Hudson's Bay co.|
|NMAI #23/2290 - Algonquin Paddle 1780-1820 ex Peabody Museum|
|This is a canoe set at Le Musée D'ethnographie de Neuchâtel. It has remained amazingly complete and intact for over 200 years. |
|One of the male paddlers showing his painted paddle. The handle is non-typical and seems almost modern in it's shape.|
|This paddle seems more in tune with known bulbous handles paddles of the St. Laurence river valley. As with many known 18th c paddles this one also is fully painted.|