Sunday, March 21, 2010

Hudson Museum #3: Models

The Hudson Museum of Anthropology at the University of Maine, Orono, has several nice models of indigenous boats on display, in addition to the ceramic model of a reed boat from Peru's Moche Valley that I showed in a previous post.

Haida Dugout Canoe model, c. 1875

Reed boat models from Lake Titicaca, c. 1960

I'll quote the exhibit signage: "Iatmul Canoe Model, c. 1980. Crocodile canoes or waivara were used by bands of sorcerers to pass magically up and down the river, traveling just beneath the water, like a crocodile." The Iatmul people are from Papua New Guinea, and maybe the sorcerers think they travel beneath the surface, or maybe try to convince others that they do so, but the signage says they actually do so. Hmmm. Anyway, it's a nice piece of sculpture.

Umiak model, c. 1970.

A model of the frame of a round-bottomed kayak from the Eastern Arctic's Ungava District. c. 1940

Model of a flat-bottomed Greenland kayak, c. 1940

Model of a Micmac ocean-going canoe, decorated with dyed porcupine quills, along with paddles. c. 1856. Like many boat models made by indigenous people, this one is lacking in accuracy in many respects, but it is lovely nonetheless. It was probably built as a souvenir for the tourist trade.


  1. Qajaq, vol 1, 2003 published and excerpt from a book written by Morten Porsild. The name of the article was On incorrect models and faked antiquities ...
    Porsild is rather harsh in his evaluation of models claiming that they have no place in museums.
    I would say that as long as we understand that models made for the tourist trade are just that and have to be made quickly and cheaply and consequently involve short cuts, exaggeration of certain features and omission of others, we can safely exhibit them without misleading anyone.
    I think that models like every other bit of historical evidence need to be viewed with a critical eye to evaluate their authenticity. My own experience in making models, an uncompleted model of a kayak, a quarter scale model of a curragh and a half scale model of a pram have taught me that making a model that is accurate in scale and detail is almost as much work as making the full scale boat. So why bother unless there are space or cost constraints or someone has commissioned the model or unless it is a labor of love.
    Still, I have seen a number of models of Aleut kayaks that are not accurately scaled but nevertheless show the gear that hunters carried and how they carried it. Full scale kayak specimens in museums seldom if ever are accompanied by all their gear unless it was the museum that commissioned the purchase.
    So I think that models are the next best thing to the real thing especially when they are all we have.

  2. Wolfgang; thanks for your input.
    I should note that the Hudson Museum is not a maritime museum attempting to accurately depict boat types through native models; rather, the models themselves are, in most cases, the cultural artifacts that the museum is displaying. The Micmac model, for example, illustrates how the Micmac people became participants in the tourist economy, after they lost the economic opportunities (hunting/gathering) that had formerly been open to them.