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Information sought on traditional Northwoods paddle decorations

Discussion in 'Research and History' started by nigelphoto, Nov 2, 2011.

  1. nigelphoto

    nigelphoto Curious about Wooden Canoes

    I am looking for images of traditional First Nation paddle decoration. I live in England and have commissioned a Northwoods paddle from one of our prime paddle makers Tim Rowe at and I would like to finish it in the manner in which it might have been in centuries gone by. I am familiar with Rick Walters article on here and Murats excellent blog but he is using pyrography and I am not sure that I won't reduce my new paddle to a pile of smoking kindling if let loose with a Dremel, so I am after painted samples as a safer option. About the only coloured picture of a painted paddle I can find is in the Cornelius Krieghof painting of a Mohawk at Kahnawake holding a paddle in 'Aboriginal Camp in Lower Canada'. Any other images or links would be very much appreciated. Nigel
  2. Murat V

    Murat V LOVES Wooden Canoes

    I'm sure your Edenwood paddle will be a stunner. Tim does some marvelous carving. For decoration ideas, not sure if you've seen the additional gallery pages on my site. On this page, I've collected images of paddles from various museums that feature some decorative work and on this page, I've collected images of paddles found in paintings. Those might give you some creative ideas.

    In my amateur research on the topic, it seems most authentic Mi'kmaq, Maliseet, Passamaquoddy, Penobscot inspired Northwoods paddles were decorated with curved motifs etched or incised directly into the blade. An indispensible book I've found is Frank G. Speck's Double-Curve Motive in Northeastern Algonkian Art. You can download individual chapters that clearly illustrate these mesmerizing patterns. You'd need a pretty steady hand to replicate these designs with paint but I suppose it could be done. Check out this detail in this c1878 Maliseet on my to do list to recreate.


    Other examples of authentic scroll patterns on paddles can be found in Trading identities: the souvenir in Native North American art from the Northeast by Ruth B. Phillips. Wrote a post about it here featuring a neatly carved pattern. Rick Nash of Woodland Heirlooms made a stunning Cherry paddle with this similar design

    [​IMG] [​IMG]

    As far as painted decorations go, it seems that paddles were painted mainly for functionality as a preservative for the wood. The entire blade or even whole paddles could be painted with oil based paints in pretty uniform colour. Check out this 90 inch Blue and Red Guide paddle, grey Penobscot and a Robin Egg Blue northwoods style below.

    [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG]

    Many artists seem to have featured painted stripes or chevrons on the blades but I've not come across any existing paddles in museums (other than tiny model canoe paddles) to deem it "authentic" northwoods decoration. The only two northwoods style paddles with what looks to be authentic decorative paintings are the circa 1849 Passamaquoddy documented by T Adney and part of the Peabody Essex museum collection painted in green and white...


    ...the other is the c1875 Maliseet or Passamaquoddy paddle in the McCord Museum with a multi coloured decoration


    The National Museum of the American Indian also has this Algonkian paddle attributed to Eastern Canada


    Hope that helps and let us know what design you end up with.
  3. OP

    nigelphoto Curious about Wooden Canoes

    Hi Murat
    Thanks so much for the additional links. This info is exactly what I am looking for. It was Tim who gave me the link to your blog, but I have seen you posting on Song of the Paddle to which I also belong. I have a fairly rare (in the UK - I know they the 'Ford' of North America!) cedar stripper built by Alain Rheaume of Grandes Piles, Ca and I wanted a paddle that was in keeping with this boat. Thanks for all your help - when the paddle is finished I'll post a picture.

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