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Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Bark Canoe and Skin Kayak Items at L.C. Bates Museum

Although founded in the early 20th century, the L.C. Bates Museum, in Hinckley, Maine, is a throwback to an even earlier time, when many museums were more or less random collections of oddities. Here you will find biological specimens, works of art, and anthropological artifacts side by side, many of them labeled poorly or not at all and too many deteriorating from a lack of care due, apparently, to a paucity of funds.

Nevertheless, it's a fun place to browse on a short visit, it's cheap ($3 for adults), it's on the way to good canoeing and rafting in northern Maine, and it contains a couple exhibits of interest to us. One is about Native American (primarily Maine) birchbark technology; the other displays Greenland Inuit artifacts from the first decade of the 20th century.

bark model canoe with porcupine quill decoration
This bark canoe model is over 3' long. It's decorated with hundreds of dyed porcupine quills, both ends of which are tucked into small holes pre-punched in the bark. Although the exhibit card says that it's "likely mid-west in origin," the ends are exaggerated representations of those on Canadian fur trade canoes. 
Penobscot bark canoe model and moose call
From the exhibit card: "This old, well-made model is an example of the thousands sold to Maine tourists in the late 19th and early 20th century (sic). This canoe shows how heated tree resin was used to seal and waterproof the birch bark joints. The word for canoe in all Abenaki languages in Aquiden."
Below the canoe model is a moose call, also made of birch bark.
Abenaki canoe paddle
An Abenaki canoe paddle, "of a size suited for teaching a young person the art of propelling a canoe."
Incised Penobscot covered birch box
A 19th century box with hinged covers, probably Penobscot, probably made for the tourist trade and intended for use as a picnic hamper. The crossed paddles and tepee designs -- of poorer quality than the box itself -- are incised in the bark in the same manner that canoes were decorated. 
Incised Penobscot covered birch box
Perspective view of the same box, with a round covered box, also of birch bark, behind.
Greenland Inuit kayak models
The exhibit card identifies the miniature kayaks in this and the following photo as toys, made for indigenous children. This may be incorrect: except for the wooden one (above, right), they were probably made for the tourist trade and/or upon the request of researchers or collectors. The one above left is ivory, and the kayaker's hand is made to hold the harpoon that rests across the cockpit coaming.  
Greenland Inuit kayak models
Two nicely authentic skin-on-frame kayak models.
Greenland Inuit projectile points
The Greenland kayak was essentially a hunting tool, used primarily in the pursuit of seals and walruses. The main hunting weapon was a harpoon with a detachable head or foreshaft. The largest of these bone harpoon points and fragments are only about 4" long. 

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