By Ernest Thompson Seton
All the painted paddles I ever saw came from the West Coast. So far as I know, only the West Coast Indians and their kin, the Eskimos of Alaska, ever decorated their paddles.
This was quite reasonable in them, for the paddle was as much an essential part of their lives as the bow or spear. But the Ojibway and Iroquois were paddle Indians; and, yet, up to date, I have seen no paddle of their make that was elaborately decorated.
In Fig. 93 the paddles of the upper row are of authentic Indian and Eskimo design as indicated--the Eskimo from Nelson's Eskimos of Bering Strait; the Indian from specimens in my own collection.
The decorations are doubtless symbolic or talismanic; but no explanation is at hand.
The lower row presents adaptations made by myself. In actual practice the Indian designs are too elaborate or complex for our life of hurry, so I found it best to simplify them, maintaining as far as possible the symbols and traditions.
Each paddle is assumed to be, first of all, of yellow varnished wood.
This gives a good as well as a usual background. The designs are mostly in red and black, with occasional green; and in most cases, the color is outlined in black or in white. Red is indicated by upright lines, as in the Moccasin Plate; black by solid black or by cross-hatching; green is diagonal lines from the top down to right. In many cases, the inner ring of the eye is put in with solid white. Usually the two sides of the paddle are nearly alike.
In each case, the color enclosed by an outline should be different from the adjoining background. This is a principle of art that the Indian recognized instinctively.
The colors of the lower six may be varied at the choice of the painter, but beware of any attempt at realism.
The broad-nosed paddles are usually for deep water; the narrow and sharpened paddles are frequently used as pushers in shallow places.
It would be fine if some canoe camp would win the name of the Tribe of the Painted Paddles, by being the first to have every paddle in camp decorated with a typical Indian design.
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Last modified: October 15, 2016.