Canoe Decoration




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By Ernest Thompson Seton

rrm092.jpg (229034 bytes)
Fig. 92.

Of all the craft that sail on inland waters, the canoe is the queen. For beauty of line and color, for grace, for pleasantness, and for poetry, the birch canoe, the Redman's boat, is easily the wearer of the laurel crown.

Of all the gifts that the Redman brought the world, the canoe alone was quite unique in this; it was quite perfect at the beginning; and so new in our world of thought that we had no name for it, but accepted the name its wood-haunting maker bestowed on it--canot, kahnu, etc.

Its every part came from the forest-birch bark cover, cedar ribs, spruce root binding, and spruce gum caulking, maple or spruce paddles.

It was perfected before the White man came--and he has not helped it since, though he has used it in every part of its native range, preferring it to any other little craft that tried to take its place.

But another enemy appeared--not a rival, but a deadly foe--the settler's axe. There was a time when millions of huge canoe birches stood in the forest-big, smooth, unblemished, ideal for the outer skin. But that day is gone; it is hard to find a birch today whose rind is good enough to make a canoe.

The cedar ribs, the spruce roots (wattap), the resin gum are still to be found, but the big, smooth birches are few and far between. And the White man has had to make his annual output of canoes of canvas and paint on the old cedar frame. The imitation is not bad; it is strong and waterproof, but very heavy, and difficult to repair in the wilderness.

The Indian loved and decorated everything in his life; and his embellishment of the canoe was the truest kind of art because it followed what was suggested by the structural lines and fabric of the canoe itself.

Most of the canoes in Fig. 92 have the dark and light beading on the gunwale; this is imposed by the spruce root wrapping. The triangular inset at bow and stern are the inevitable bindings of the parts; and the black upright bands on each side are the gum lines of the joints. The star of colored roots on the prow is a gratuitous embellishment or an owner's mark; and, of course, the background for it all is the exquisite varied leaf-brown of the bark itself.

And what did the White man do with this opportunity before him? With his natural genius for uglification he carried his own canoe as far as possible from the original. The lines he was bound to follow; but for the exquisite tints, colors, and patterns of tile Redman, lie substituted a hideous, monotonous, unvaried drab, chronic green, or sooty gray.

 In the hope of adding some color joy to the outside of our funereal canoes I offer the, following designs-none of them a full and exact copy of an Indian canoe, but all of the decorative elements taken from Indian sources.

The speckling of short upright scratches means ground color, usually a tan or golden brown. The black and white are indicated; and upright lining means red, as on the other Plates. Both sides and both ends of the canoe are here supposed to be alike.

See Also:

Painted Paddles

Rhythm of the Redman






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Breech Clouts, Breech Cloths ] Buffalo Skull ] Buttons ] [ Canoe Decoration ] Drums and Shields ] Indian Graphic Arts ] Indian Names for Months ] Indian Moccasins ] Navajo Loom ] Painted Paddles ] Peace Pipes ] Picture-Writing ] Sign Language ] Painting the Tepee ] Pottery ] Teepee Plans 10' ] Tweezers ] War Bonnets ] Willow Bed ]

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Native Skills ] Totem Poles ] Indian Sign Language ] Indian Ceremonies ] Indian Dance ] Indian Songs ] Birch Bark Dances ] Birch Bark Songs ] Birch Bark Plays ] Indian Games for Boys ]

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Last modified: October 15, 2016.