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Friday, November 4, 2016

Buckminster Fuller's Model Boat Collection, Part 1

Buckminster Fuller is normally associated with technological modernism, but it seems he had a penchant for preindustrial technology too. His granddaughter recently donated Fuller's collection of boat models to Penobscot Marine Museum, the bulk of it representing boats "outside the Western tradition," as we put it.

Collections Manager Cipperly Good kindly granted us access to the collection, which the museum received with almost no accompanying documentation. Being brand new to the museum, it has not yet been carefully studied, so most of the vessels represented have yet to be identified. Of the roughly 15 models in the collection, one is American (an early 20th century powerboat hull) and three are European (20th century Greek and Danish vessels). The rest represent preindustrial types: seven are from Asia, two from Oceania, one appears to be from Africa, and one is a mystery even at the continental level.

Most of the models appear to have been built for the tourist trade and, as such, may not be detailed or accurate enough to associate with real, specific vessel types. Some of them are fanciful, intended more as an artistic expression than an accurate representation.

Here we present our photos the non-Western types that are not from China. (We'll look at the Chinese models in our next post.) Our identifications of types and provenances are largely speculative. As we learn more, we'll update the captions. Please help us identify the models by writing to us in the Comments. As always, click any image to enlarge.

Model of a double hull voyaging canoe from Bora Bora
Double-hull voyaging canoe. An identification tag found inside the deckhouse (the roof lifts off in the manner of a trinket box) reads "Bora-Bora. Given to R.B.F - 1966 by native chief" (Richard was Fuller's first name.) The hulls are carved from solid, dense hardwood. The horsehead figureheads and all other features are glued on. The proper location of the spar on the table in the foreground is unknown. Many of the glued parts are coming loose but the model is otherwise in good condition.

Model of a double hull voyaging canoe from Bora Bora, stern view
A rudder under the aft deck is steered by a massive rudder post with tillers extending from both sides. The tillers would be far too short to steer the real vessel. Horses, of course, were unknown in the Society Islands before European contact, and we doubt that they were ever used as figureheads in Bora Bora even after they were known. 

Model of a Samoan single-outrigger paddling canoe
Samoan outrigger paddling canoe. ("Samoa" appears as part of the carved decoration on the starboard bow.) The hull is solid hardwood. The maker used the heartwood/sapwood division of his workpiece to advantage in creating a two-toned hull, with the lower half darker than the upper. Incised carving in the lower half was accentuated by rubbing in some light-colored material.


Model of a Samoan single-outrigger paddling canoe
Although it was made for the tourist trade, the model strives toward accuracy in some details. The outrigger extends further forward than it does aft, beginning just short of the waterline at the cutwater, but ending just past the aft outrigger struts. The complex configuration of the struts appears to be accurate. Crudely carved paddles with pointed, leaf-shaped blades are lashed to the tops of all three outrigger booms.


canoe model, Southeast Asian
Canoe, probably Southeast Asia. The hull and the long bow and stern decks are carved from a single piece of lightweight wood, but the model may represent a dugout or a boat with stitched or metal-fastened planks. Deck extensions or seats located just inboard of and slightly lower than the decks were added separately, as were three sitting thwarts. All of these added pieces rest on a ridge carved on the hull's inner surface.

UPDATE: This information provided by Mick Allen:
(This model) is an abstraction of sampans from Tonle Sap Lake in Cambodia or from that connected section of the Mekong river. These boats range in size from about 12 ft [4 m.] to about 25 ft [8m]. Each end is smoothly carved from one log piece with stepped insets for each level of planking of the main body. The keel connecting the two carved ends is also deeply shaped following the a curved cross section. The minimum number of planks each side of the keel is 3 with 1 washstrake plank increasing to 4 or 5 with 2 washstrake planks. Most planking is carvel on frames, decks are planked parallel to the gunwales. Washstrakes stop either short of both ends or one end only with the other end resolving to the carved ‘stems.’ Most examples seem to be more curvaceous in plan that the model, but the inset carving on the model does not seem to be present on the common examples that I’ve seen, however they are painted in varying colours: blue for the exterior, reds and oranges for the upper stem facets and the rest left uncoloured. Whatever the case, these sampans are supremely elegant. 
We thank Mick for the input and agree with his identification. In fact, we blogged about the paddle-propelled boats of Tonle Sap here and here, and several of them are indeed clearly of the type that the model depicts.

Southeast Asian canoe model, decorative details
Most upper surfaces are decorated with incised carvings of geometric and floral designs. The two long-shafted paddles have bulbous end-grips and blunt leaf-shape blades. From the shape of the raised bow and stern and the style of the decorations, we believe this represents a Cambodian, Thai, or Vietnamese type.

Model of a Southeast Asian (?) water taxi (?)
A small passenger vessel, possibly a water taxi. We believe to be from Southeast Asia. The hardwood hull seems to represent a plank-built hull with a flat central bottom part and fore and aft bottom pieces that rise from it at angles. The thwart-seats and coach roof are carved with a geometric, possibly floral, design. The low main passenger seat (for two?) and the "floor" in front of it are upholstered with fabric. A pair of paddles or oars with heart-shaped blades are held in sockets directly behind the house. Two empty sockets in the thwart aft of them may have held another set at one time.

Our guess is that the vessel operators would have stood on the aft deck. The gunwales rise to two points adjacent to the cabin and are reminiscent of the arrangement of tholepins on a Thames skiff, but we believe this is a superficial similarity only. In a real vessel of this type, the coach roof would probably have been lighter in relation to the rest of the boat -- probably of matting or cloth.


Model dugout canoe, African?
A dugout (?) canoe. The men appear to be wearing fezzes and have negroid features. We assume this model is African. Alternately, the boat's shallow shape is reminiscent of some bark canoes of Australian Aborigines, but then the "fezzes" would have to be interpreted as a hairstyle instead.

UPDATE: Mick Allen also identified this one as a carving from Kenya. He found a listing on Amazon of a nearly identical model here. It's so close that it appears to have been made by the same artist. Thanks again, Mick.

Model dugout canoe, African?
The model builder was not trying to achieve a literal depiction of a canoe and its passengers. The hull is extremely shallow and hollowed only slightly. Aside from their heads and faces, the passengers are represented mainly as flowing shapes that merge smoothly into the bottom of the boat; they have no hands, and their feet and arms are only vaguely suggested. A paddle is suggested in the form of a heavy shaft that extends to the left of the bow paddler, although it has no blade at its end and does not extend beyond the gunwale. Lozenge-shaped objects at the bow and stern may represent cargo.

wooden model boat propelled by a kneeling paddler
Boat propelled by a kneeling paddler. The blade of the long-shafted paddle is broken off. We have no guesses about the provenance of the model or the type of boat it refers to.

wooden model boat propelled by a kneeling paddler
The exaggerated rise of the bow does not reflect any real boat's design and is the model maker's artistic vision in a piece that is intended only as a decorative item. The sides and top surface of the hull are decorated with vine-and-leaf carving. Although crudely formed, the human figure's posture does a nice job depicting the vigorous, muscular, yet graceful movement of paddling.


11 comments:

  1. The boat called “Canoe, probably Southeast Asia” is an abstraction of sampans from Tonle Sap Lake in Cambodia or from that connected section of the Mekong river. These boats range in size from about 12 ft [4 m.] to about 25 ft [8m]. Each end is smoothly carved from one log piece with stepped insets for each level of planking of the main body. The keel connecting the two carved ends is also deeply shaped following the a curved cross section. The minimum number of planks each side of the keel is 3 with 1 washstrake plank increasing to 4 or 5 with 2 washstrake planks. Most planking is carvel on frames, decks are planked parallel to the gunwales. Washstrakes stop either short of both ends or one end only with the other end resolving to the carves ‘stems’.
    Most examples seem to be more curvaceous in plan that the model, but the inset carving on the model does not seem to be present on the common examples that I’ve seen, however they are painted in varying colours: blue for the exterior, reds and oranges for the upper stem facets and the rest left uncoloured. Whatever the case, these sampans are supremely elegant.
    -Mick Allen

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  2. Thanks Mick. We'll revise the post and work the detailed info. you've provided into the description.

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  3. What the heck, here’s some more input:

    Other examples of the “dugout (?) canoe” type mentioned can be seen with a “Kenyan canoe carving” google search - where you’ll get a bunch of hits for virtually identical touristy type models.
    For example:
    https://s3-us-west-2.amazonaws.com/usedphotosna/40087949_934.jpg

    The last example “Boat propelled by a kneeling paddler”, has the gestural flow of a Maldives traditional Dhoni fish boat prow, however the posture, proportion, and scale is similar to that of a Peruvian reed surfboat. It’s a toss-up, but I think I’d actually go with the model being derived from the gesture versus from the proportion and scale potential reference.

    Maldives Dhoni sailboat:
    http://www.plazaholidays.com/plazaholidays2014/images/holidayimages/Maldives/maldives%20paradise%20island%20hotel%20photodos-spaus-hotels.jpg

    Peruvian Totora reed surfbt at Huanchaco beach:
    http://footage.framepool.com/shotimg/qf/815350684-reed-boat-peruvian-lima-city-paddling.jpg
    http://cdn.adventure.travel/wp-content/uploads/2012/08/017686_200.jpg

    All the boat models seem to be of similar touristy quality, so unfortunately for the museum, possibly this selection is not really of much interest other than for who and maybe why it was originally acquired.
    regards,
    -Mick Allen

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  4. Mick,
    No question, you nailed the African model. Thanks so much.
    The high prow on the Malvidian boat is lovely and dramatic -- never seen it before. The fact that it's a sailboat disqualifies it as the basis for the model, I think.
    Canoes are paddled from a kneeling posture in many cultures, and the Peruvian surfboat is paddled with a double-bladed paddle, while the paddle in the model had a single blade (broken off and missing), so I don't think we have a convincing ID for that one yet.
    I agree that the models aren't of interest as study tools to learn anything about the real vessels they represent. The fact that they belonged to Bucky Fuller partially justifies them. In addition, a collection of tourist-trade models might be worthwhile in its own right to study how different cultures approach a single theme in an economic and artistic endeavor with a similar customer base.

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  5. Forgot to mention: Fuller spent time in Maine (I just spoke with Lance Lee, who says he built his first geodesic dome on one of the islands), so the collection of his models is of interest to the museum on that basis.

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  6. Re: ‘Boat propelled by a kneeling paddler’

    Hi Robert,
    I’ve had fun trying to come up with a better derivation for ‘Boat propelled by a kneeling paddler’ but it’s an elusive quarry. I have a strong supposition of what it really is about, but supposition is all it is.

    But firstly before they become stale, here are some links to identical and similar tourist type models – I would guess the ebay photo copyrights are not much of an issue and the photos could be shown here, but in any case grab or at least check them out while they’re current:

    one is identical to the Buckyboat with ‘African’ derivation implied in its link:
    http://www.ebay.com/itm/Hand-Carved-Wooden-Boat-with-Man-and-Long-Boat-aaa344-/262724118725?hash=item3d2b93e8c5:g:KBEAAOSwwbdWGt0y

    and this one is a little birdheaded, as well as supposedly ‘ancient Egyptian’:
    http://www.ebay.com/itm/13-1-2-GREAT-WOOD-ART-ANCIENT-EGYPTIAN-ONE-MAN-RIVER-BOAT-BARGE-SCULPTURE-/142200994929?hash=item211bd6fc71:g:MwIAAOSw8oFXzxmL

    another similar is handcarved with a ‘lance’ but is more simplistic and crude and has no derivation:
    http://www.ebay.com/itm/like/282288717132?vectorid=229466&lgeo=1&item=282288717132&rmvSB=true

    another with a ‘rower’ with paddle similar to the lance proportion and also no derivation:
    http://www.ebay.com/itm/like/152345221124?vectorid=229466&lgeo=1&item=152345221124&rmvSB=true

    and lastly another is ‘Pacific Islands’ with small bladed paddle:
    http://www.ebay.com/itm/like/172419155519?vectorid=229466&lgeo=1&item=172419155519&rmvSB=true

    and they’re worth anywhere from $18 to $69 plus shipping.

    So Africa, ancient Egypt, South Pacific Islands or Hawaii? . . . the possibilities cover half the world!

    Regards,
    Mick Allen

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    Replies
    1. Mick, Many thanks for digging further into this. With so many nearly identical models out there, it's surprising that none of the sellers seem to know where they came from.

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  7. Hi Robert,
    In your relatively recent blog [mar 23 2017], you mentioned the “canoe-like bundle boat used on the Upper Nile by the Dinka and Shulluk people”:

    https://4.bp.blogspot.com/-Pa0dFQZW-CY/WNPWxOGovcI/AAAAAAAAemA/9U5dlQo7C5omnMRhf3MO6CiQ3v_voLAVgCLcB/s1600/Ambatch%2Bcanoe%2BUpper%2BNile.jpg

    It reminded me that I had reflected upon a better derivation of the ‘Boat propelled by a kneeling paddler’ which is as follows:

    In the virtually destroyed Marsh-Arab culture of lower Iraq, there had been a similar bundle boat where the single bladed paddler adopted a similar position – kneeling on the top of the rear of the boat with a single long paddle - as in the carving in question:

    http://www.prmprints.com/image/421816/suaid-boy-paddling-a-raft

    The bow extension of the reed boat is much longer than the truncated stern and in all 3 cases have curvature upward: but with the carved model in question from where comes the dramatic upward bow curvature, the flat sides to almost render chines, the inset leaflike carving on the sides and ‘deck’, and the rectangular knurling on the inside peak of the bow:

    https://2.bp.blogspot.com/-n0kjX-zjqeU/WBye-VtfuuI/AAAAAAAALRc/G_ozV7Lf1IMv0pSVgYoUmVIo6P2PbWptwCPcB/s1600/PB010305.JPG

    In the Marsh Arab culture alongside the reed boat, there coexisted a most dramatic small craft called the ‘Tarada’. The tarada had long sweeping ends – especially the bow, it was plank built of thin planks inside and out blanketing narrow ribs with all three sewn together [virtually a composite structure], and these 3 flat surfaces essentially rendered a 3 panel boat with sharp chines in between – very similar characteristics to the carving in question:

    http://www.prmprints.com/image/421718/hasan-bin-manati-in-thesigers-tarada

    And lo-and-behold, I found one photo of a tarada that seems to have a knurling to the top inside bow end:

    http://proof.nationalgeographic.com/files/2015/09/02_p30-31-lively-village-scene-RGB.jpg

    So I think the carved boat is a melding of 2 co-existing boat forms - by taking the posture of the bundle boat, superimposing on it the flatter surfaces of the tarada, while making reference to the grass derived bundles by the inset leafy carvings, and coalescing the sweeping bows of both, and incorporating the end knurling of some specific taradas.

    But what is not answered is why the dramatic bow upturn, the almost symbolic posture of the carving? . . . . And I think the answer is in one of the most important symbols that they may have related to – the symbol of their very religion:

    https://sunandshield.files.wordpress.com/2013/04/crescent-moon-symbol-of-islam.png

    And that that is further supported by the kneeling posture, the bowed head of the humble paddler.

    So anyway, that’s my shot at it – it’s certainly not definitive – but I think it’s an acceptable attempt!

    Regards,
    mick allen

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  8. Mick,
    Thank you for more wonderful photo references and more fascinating speculation/investigation into the original of the "kneeling paddler" carving. The tarada, with the knurled feature at the top of the bow, does look so similar, and the idea that the model represents a melding of the tarada and the reed bundle boat seems credible. I wonder if the Marsh Arabs ever engage in tourist trade -- or perhaps is might have been carved by some enterprising craftsman in Baghdad without any connection to that culture.
    The tarada's design is lovely, especially the first photo you reference. I've never heard of this kind of sandwich construction before. What is your source that that info?

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  9. Hi Robert,
    They’re not sewn together but nailed instead:

    The main source I based my comments on was the Thesiger collection of almost 300 photos which have some building/repair photos that show the basics of their construction.

    http://www.prmprints.com/category/9588/thesiger-collection/iraq

    Of these are ones that I took for sewn inside:

    http://lowres-picturecabinet.com.s3-eu-west-1.amazonaws.com/125/main/1/421818.jpg

    but instead are likely blobs of asphalt resin [likely mixed with mud] over each nail head as outlined in “Marsh Arabs in the Garden of Eden”

    https://books.google.ca/books?id=vEZBAwAAQBAJ&pg=PA177&lpg=PA177#v=onepage&q&f=false

    where there was an aesthetic of exaggerating the nail heads. That aspect was unexpected. . . .
    and in this one [a related mashuf being constructed]:

    http://lowres-picturecabinet.com.s3-eu-west-1.amazonaws.com/125/main/1/421557.jpg

    you can plainly see how thin the planking was - although the ribbing in this example isn’t as closely spaced as in other photo examples.

    Here’s another example of how frequently the ribbing ‘core’ was spaced:

    http://lowres-picturecabinet.com.s3-eu-west-1.amazonaws.com/125/main/1/421698.jpg

    [this one really looked like sewing to me at the time - pre-iron, they probably were, but whose to know unless iconography shows].

    In any event, the exterior was thin planks side by side – as was the interior, with a core made up of closely spaced ribs. The exterior was covered in bitumen and the nail heads on the interior were covered with large blobs of bitumen to portray very noticeable even patterning. There was a gap of the interior sheathing[ceiling] at the chines so that logically the ‘composite’ core could be easily bailed if there was leakage . This grouping of elements would give quite stiff sides and hull bottom despite the thin materials used.

    regards,
    mick allen

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  10. Mick - many thanks yet again. Your investigations, careful observation, and insights are much appreciated.
    I'd like to touch base with you outside of this forum. Please email me: RSHoltzman (at) gmail.com

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