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 Bécart 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...

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.

Paddle |  | M5470
Anonyme - Anonymous
Eastern Woodlands
Aboriginal: Maliseet or Passamaquoddy
1875-1900, 19th century
Wood, paint
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 

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Historic Paddle Photo: Abbe Museum

Here is an old photo from the Facebook gallery of the Abbe Museum. The long paddle seems to have a tiny painted grip area while the rest of the wood has been left bare.

The photo was posted because the museum is asking for the public's assistance to locate the original photo in order scan for a new 2018 exhibit, Emergence: Root Clubs of Penobscot Nation. If you have any leads, contact Julia Gray, director of collections & research, at or 207-288-3519.

Friday, March 23, 2018

Neuchatel Canoe Model Paddle Replica

A few examples of North American native paddle designs exist in European museums today owing to a robust souvenir industry in the 18th century. Huron (Wendat), Mohawk. Algonquin and Abenaki converts from the Catholic mission villages along the Saint Lawrence River collaborated with local nuns to manufacture "tourist art". The First Nations women would work to make model bark canoes and other material accessories. Older traditions of wooden dollmaking were refined by the use of wax to model the faces. In turn, the nuns utilized their traditions of fine needlework and embroidery to make miniature clothing in the mixed European - Native style fashionable in the region at that time.

A few of these model canoes have been mentioned earlier on this site. The 1760 Chartres Canoe, the 1760 Farquharson model, the 1794 Rennes canoe and the Mashantucket Pequot model canoe. Each had decorated canoes with equally ornamented paddles.

Another canoe model dated to 1799 has a much more simple (and realistic) decorative elements. The model was acquired  by a Swiss tourist, Jeanne Elisabeth Gugy for the curio collection of an associate in her hometown, Count Charles de Meuron. It was eventually became part of the collection of the  Musée D'ethnographie de Neuchâtel.

Musee d'ethnographie. Neuchatel. Switzerland IV.A.30

The bark hull has been left plain and with the thwarts, gunnels, decks and upper stems painted in a red-brown earth paint. Two male figures and two female figures are seen the posed in the hull. A paddle is visible in the stern and has a simple checkered pattern of green, yellow, and red/brown paint.

Male Figurine with decorated paddle - before 1799 
Musee d'ethnographie. Neuchatel. Switzerland IV.A.30

Obscured by the sail is another figure also holding a decorated paddle - a narrow blade with elongated flattened grip and a simple blade decoration of chevrons and dots.

Female Figurine with decorated paddle - before 1799 
Musee d'ethnographie. Neuchatel. Switzerland IV.A.30

I decided to create large reproduction of the latter example. At the time, I had some basswood cutoffs and managed to laminate these waste pieces to create a short blank. In the end I ended up with a 53" paddle after extrapolating dimensions from this miniature model while trying to maintain the scale. The original had some sort of darkened paint on the long grip, but I had a hard time discerning the shade. In my version, I simply charred the surface with a propane torch and sanded smooth. The remaining blue and red paint on the blade had a very thinned, transparent look so an attempt was made to mimic this excessively thinning the oil-based Tremclad paints I have on hand. In keeping with the handpainted tradition of the original amateur artist, I just free handed the dots and chevron decorations

  Neuchatel model paddle replica 

Being a short paddle, I think this one will get minimal usage but it'll still be a neat experience using a 200+ year old design.

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