I was honoured to be commissioned again this year to make a paddle for the Honorary Riverkeeper. This year’s recipient is Claudette Commanda.
With this paddle, I wanted to use only edge tools and leave the hand of the maker that is so often erased in today's production methods.
I dipped back in time to use a historical tool made by the legendary canoe and paddle builder Omar Stringer that was given to me several years ago. I was new to this tool and it took some getting used to, but it felt right to use it to carve this particular paddle.
Claudette's grandfather, William Commanda, was a leader of his people and keeper of three wampum belts - historical artifacts with which he traveled the world. I, however, knew Commanda as a master birch bark canoe builder, and the maker of a pair of snowshoes I was given several years ago. He made these snowshoes with this same kind of edge tool I was trying to master - its telltale marks remain in the wood and clearly show what a master craftsman he was.
The hands of the maker evident in the object.
With great patience and some frustration, I set out to carve a piece of highly figured cherry. I must admit that all romantic notions of links to the past and carrying on tradition were quite challenged as the wood did not cooperate quite as I had envisioned. But I managed to work it out in time, ending up with a paddle shape.
Leaving evidence of edge tool marks in today's production era may be setting myself up for accusations of manufacturing defects, but I intentionally left the marks as a nod to past ways, and as sign of the maker that Claudette Commanda will immediately recognize.
Claudette has carried on her grandfather's legacy through education of her peoples' history and culture and my intention is to pay hommage through a simple object such as a canoe paddle.
Photo Credit: OttawaRiverKeeper