Friday, June 16, 2017

Tasse à canot de voyageurs - Voyageurs canoe cup

"Canoes in a Fog" by Frances Anne Hopkins


During the fur trade era French-Canadian voyageurs and Native American hunters traveling by canoe often carried wooden canoe cups (sometimes called belt cups), a practical accessory that allowed them to dip drinking water from a lake or stream while paddling a canoe.  Until drinking unfiltered water became identified as dangerous in the 1970s, the tradition of carrying canoe cups continued with sportsmen.


Canoe cups were typically made from a tree burl, often maple or birch, that was hollowed out and shaped with crooked knife. The cups were sometimes decorated with incised, relief-carved, painted, or burned (pyrography) motifs of indigenous flora and fauna. 


Attached to the cup was usually a piece of deer or moose hide cordage, and a twig or carved toggle, which allowed the cup to hang from the sash or belt. 


My hand-carved canoe cup (pictured here) is engraved and decorated with burnt wood details of a trout or whitefish on each side.  It measures about  4¾" long by 3¼" wide by 2¼" deep, and is unsigned.  It was made by an Atikamekw Indian from Manawan, Quebec, Canada (about 160 kilometers northeast of Montreal).  


The Atikamekw are the indigenous inhabitants of the area they refer to as Nitaskinan ("Our Land"), in the upper Saint-Maurice River valley of Quebec.  The Atikamekw language, is a variety of the Cree language.  Their name, which literally means "lake whitefish", is sometimes also spelt "Atihkamekw", "Attikamekw", "Attikamek", or "Atikamek".  The French colonists referred to them as Têtes-de-Boules, meaning "Ball-Heads" or "Round-Heads" because of the shape of their headdress.

More elaborately carved examples of "Canoe Cups" or "Belt Cups" can be seen at:

Belt Cup, c. 1820, Anishinaabe, Ottawa or Ojibwa -- http://www.seattleartmuseum.org/exhibitions/indigenous (search - "Belt Cup")

Exceptional Northeast Carved Wood Belt Cup -- https://www.skinnerinc.com/auctions/2685B/lots/245

Northeast Carved and Painted Wood Canoe Cup -- https://www.skinnerinc.com/auctions/2563B/lots/332

Eastern Woodlands carved wood Belt Cup. c. 1760 -- https://fineart.ha.com/itm/american-indian-art/wood-sculpture/an-eastern-woodlands-carved-wood-belt-cupc-1760/a/5161-50330.s

Update -- Woodlands Indian Canoe Cup on PBS -- http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/roadshow/season/6/miami-fl/appraisals/native-american-artifacts--200102A34/

Canoe Cup appraised on PBS Antiques Roadshow at $15-20,000

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