….the canoe is not a lifeless, inanimate object; it feels very much alive, alive with the life of the river. – Bill Mason, Path of the Paddle

There is nothing that is so aesthetically pleasing and yet so functional and versatile as the canoe. – Bill Mason

Today, most Canadian canoeing is recreational. Many of us would assert that it is usually meaningful, aesthetically fulfilling and ecologically sensitive recreational canoeing. Admittedly, these modifiers are not present in the highly competitive, highly structured and technically oriented canoe racing sports which tend not to take place in a wilderness environment. But with these large exceptions, canoeing, certainly canoe tripping and lake water canoe crusising, tends to involve in varying degrees a quest for wilderness or at least semi-wilderness. It also involves a search for high adventure or natural tranquility or both. These activities are an integral part of Canadian culture. Bill Mason asserts that the canoe is “the most beautiful work of human beings, the most functional yet aesthetically pleasing object ever created,” and that paddling a canoe is “an art” not a technical achievement. That certainly means culture. – Bruce Hodgins, from Canexus, p.46

On her Dad’s art: Like him, I find that paddling can take you on a voyage of creativity where you store up experiences in you memory to treasure for a lifetime.” – Becky Mason

The canoe has appeared in many forms of art….in paintings by artists such as Tom Thomson….and Bill Mason certainly comes to mind….and many many others….then there’s great photography such as that by Jim Davis or Mike Monaghan….not to mention great films by Bill Mason or Justine Curgenven….even the act of paddling a canoe is seen as art (especially if you’ve seen Free-style paddling by the likes of Karen Knight or even a display of Canadian style paddling by Becky Mason….truly canoe ballet)….but the canoe is also found in other forms of art too.

On Facebook, Fiona of Badger Paddles posted on a sculpture/installation in Lewiston, Idaho called Canoe Wave….Lewiston, Idaho is where Lewis and Clark met the Nez Perce tribe….Christopher Fennell created Canoe Wave, a 23-foot-tall colorful wave of canoes welded together on the bank of the Snake River. From his website Making of the Canoe Wavehttp://cfennell.com/pages/lc.html, comes this description:

For him, each canoe stands for a person, and here is a wave of them. Visually, it’s a storm of canoes. It’s a monument to Lewis and Clark who used the canoe, but also to the life of the rivers that flow through the valley. It will take 50 or more canoes to create the wave. The canoes are all aluminum, a material that will withstand the storms of ages. He discovered fiberglass would disintegrate. While 10 canoes came from the Boise area, most are from Chattanooga, Tenn., where Fennell once created a giant doorway from trees. People familiar with his work there sold him their canoes after learning of his Idaho project in local newspapers. In the process they shared stories of rapids, frostbite and other adventures in their boats, which were like old friends. “I wanted canoes that had a history to them,” Fennell says. “They wanted to retire their friend into something that would last forever.” Like most of his work, the $100,000 art piece is made from 80 percent recycled materials. As an avid outdoorsman, natural forms like waves, flora and fauna are prevalent in Fennell’s work. “It’s totally where I’m inspired. The engineer in me still looks at how nature puts things together and how man puts things together and I’m mixing the two.” Another way to put it, he says, is a beehive and a skyscraper are basically the same. “I always like to think there’s nature and civilization. If you stand off a bit, we’re all nature.”

Canoe Wave, from http://cfennell.com/pages/lc.html.

This got me to thinking about various sculptures based on the canoe….especially large installations….not public (or even private) exhibits of actual canoes….so I thought I’d post a few examples.

Bill Reid, a famous Haida artist and carver, created several such works. He even helped renew the tradition of building traditional canoes. From The Raven’s Callhttp://theravenscall.ca/en/art, a publication on Bill Reid’s art comes this by Dr. Martine Reid (an independent scholar, author, and curator):

In 1991, after five years of work, Reid and his crew of assistants completed the large bronze “The Spirit of Haida Gwaii” (“The Black Canoe”) and installed it in a reflecting pool at the Canadian Chancery in Washington D.C. Its black patina represents the black argillite slate carved by the Haida people. A second casting with a green patina (“The Jade Canoe”) is installed at the Vancouver International Airport. An image of “The Spirit of Haida Gwaii” was chosen to represent Canadian art and culture on the Canadian twenty-dollar banknote.

Bill Reid “The Spirit of Haida Gwaii” (“The Black Canoe”) 1991 Bronze with black patina 3.89 m H x 3.48 m W x 6.05 m L Collection of Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada (DFAIT) Catalogue number 994.98.1 Gift of Nabisco Brands Limited, Toronto, Ontario Photo: Glen Bullard, DFAIT

Bill Reid “The Spirit of Haida Gwaii” (“The Jade Canoe”) 1996 Bronze with jade patina, the second and final bronze casting 3.89 m H x 3.48 m W x 6.05 m L Collection of the Vancouver International Airport Authority Photo: Kenji Nagai

Both photos from http://theravenscall.ca/en/art.

The canoe as an image is often used….frequently to tie in with a historical event. In Huntsville is a sculpture to Tom Thomson that Murat V. of the Paddle Making blog wrote about in this post, Tom ThomsonCanoe & Paddle Sculpture, http://paddlemaking.blogspot.com/2010/02/tom-thomson-canoe-paddle-sculpture.html:

In front of the historic town hall in downtown Huntsville is a statue of legendary Canadian artist, Tom Thomson whose raw impressionist style marked the beginning a new era in Canadian wilderness art. His suspicious death in 1917 while paddling on Canoe Lake in Algonquin Park served to increase his fame and elevated him to a sort of legendary status.

The statue was sculpted and cast by local a artist, Brenda Wainman-Goulet. It features Thomson in his characteristic wool cap painting a sketch while sitting on a tree stump. Next to him rests an overturned 12 foot canoe and a paddle…..made in ’08. The canoe was sculpted in wax, cut into sections, cast and reassembled in bronze. The total weight of the bronze canoe is 900 lbs (portage that!) and is apparently the first bronze canoe of its kind in Canada.

THEMUSEUM in Kitchener will have an installation based on the Tom Thomson story by Professor Marcel O’Gorman, PhD (Director, Critical Media Lab, Department of English, University of Waterloo), as part of the art exhibition, SEARCHING FOR TOM | Tom Thomson: Man, Myth and Masterworks. For more on this see my blog post, https://reflectionsoutdoors.wordpress.com/2010/10/03/myth-of-the-steersman-more-on-tom-thomsons-canoe/ or Marcel’s blog, http://blog.steersman.ca/.

Artist John McEwen has created several canoe related projects (in these two cases in collaboration with Steve Killing, well known boat designer, including designs of canoes and kayaks….as Steve states on his website, http://stevekilling.com/specialart.htm, regarding such work: I feel honoured to work with these artists. My task is to computer model, render, and sometimes engineer the shapes that they imagine).

A Bronze Canoe Sculpture installed in the Canadian Embassy in Berlin Artist: John McEwen, photo from http://stevekilling.com/specialart.htm.

From http://torontohistory.org/Pages_ABC/Canoe_and_Calipers.html, Canoe And Calipers.

Photos and transcription by contributor Wayne Adam – June, 2009, from http://torontohistory.org/Pages_ABC/Canoe_and_Calipers.html.

Here is more, from http://torontohistory.org/Pages_ABC/Canoe_and_Calipers.html:

Located on the southeast corner of The Queensway and Windermere Avenue is this public art for Windemere by the Lake. The accompanying plaque has this to say:

This sculpture of Canoe and Calipers, marks the meeting of two technologies: the calipers a symbol of the old world and the canoe a gift of the First Nations. Both were instrumental in shaping Canada and on a smaller scale both refer to the history of the area — First Nations peoples and early explorers canoed Lake Ontario to the south and the Humber River to the west. Most recently the Stelco/Swansea Iron Works Factory which made nuts and bolts occupied this site.

Also in Toronto is a sculpture most know simply as The Big Red Canoe. It can be seen from the Gardiner Expressway….or travelling by GO train. Here are some photos:

Photo from http://news.nationalpost.com/2010/04/30/after-months-of-hurdles-canoe-landing-park-opens/.

Photo from http://mute.rigent.com/index.php?ladat=2009-09-29 , which is described by the photographer as: A new park in downtown Toronto situated on a large condo development. The 8 acre park was designed around the vision of author Douglas Coupland and features this over-sized red canoe pointing out over the Gardiner Expressway – Toronto’s busiest ‘river’.

Photo from Eye Weekly, http://www.eyeweekly.com/city/details/article/71921. This is the description from this website:

Canadian author and designer Douglas Coupland was in Toronto last week to launch his latest project: a park between Spadina and Bathurst among the CityPlace condos. The new as-yet-unnamed park continues Coupland’s Canadiana theme with giant fishing lures, a pathway named after Terry Fox and what will likely become a Toronto landmark: a big red canoe on a hill that points directly at the Gardiner.

Since these articles the park has been named Canoe Landing Park. That is a truly appropriate name….not only for the Big Red Canoe that is part of it….but also for the fact that Toronto began as a First Nations village, then later a fur trading post….and this is close to the access (in Toronto any way) of the portage many knew as the Toronto Carrying Place. ( NOTE: Apparently up to 10 people can fit into the Big Red Canoe….that is a lot of potential paddlers LOL LOL.)

Photo of Nuu-Chah-Nulth Whaling Canoe sculpture in Port Alberni, BC, front view, from http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Nuu-Chah-Nulth_Whaling_Canoe_sculpture_in_Port_Alberni_front.JPG.


Photo of Nuu-Chah-Nulth Whaling Canoe sculpture in Port Alberni, BC, back view, from http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Nuu-Chah-Nulth_Whaling_Canoe_sculpture_in_Port_Alberni_back.JPG.

This sculpture was originally housed in the Royal British Columbia Museum in Victoria.

Another Canadian canoe art piece is described by Nova Craft Canoes, http://www.novacraft.com/inline_whatsup.htm:

Canadian History Up in the Air

Along with 23 Nova Craft Canoes

Our canoes can be spotted in some unusual places these days.  Two London art galleries are displaying our canoes in an exploration of Canadian history from an alternative perspective.

Underway in London is a research project entitled ‘Mapping Medievalism at the Canadian Frontier’.  Led by UWO art history professor Kathryn Brush, the project aims to introduce Canadian history to the definition of ‘medievalism’.  In the exhibition, artifacts from the European Middle Ages are mixed with Native North American objects from the same era.  The effect is to visually define the ‘Canadian Middle Ages’.

Among the Native North American objects on display is our authentic birch-bark canoe.  Normally housed in London’s Paddle Shop showroom, the canoe is now a spectacle at UWO’s McIntosh Gallery – one of three exhibition sites for Brush’s project.  Together with pre-1550 Native artifacts and other historical objects, the 16-foot replica carries the Native North American side of the visual dialogue.

Our canoes also appear in a related installation, across campus in the Visual Arts Department.  Assigned to respond to Brush’s exhibition, third-year sculpture students have begun their own exhibition, called ‘Medievaled Sculpture’.  The show takes place in the department’s ArtLAB gallery.

Inspired by our birch-bark canoe, the sculpture class decided to use canoes as the backdrop for their show.  Not just one or two, however, but 23 of our Royalex Lites are being installed in the 1600-square-foot space! Moreover, most of the canoes will be hung from the gallery ceiling.  Three people are required to hang each canoe: one to ride a Skylift up and tie ropes to steel girders 30-feet high, and two on the ground to hoist the canoe using pulleys.  The canoes are being arranged in a Gothic pattern reminiscent of medieval architecture.


Underneath the Gothic canoe ceiling, the gallery floor is covered in a collaborative drawing project.  The space in between contains the students’ sculptures, involving all sorts of materials such as clay, glass, wood, metal, feathers, lights, video, and found objects.

The reaction to ‘Medievaled Sculpture’ is that of “surprise”, says Kelly Jazvac, the class’s professor.  The exhibit is a show-in-progress; the ArtLAB gallery is open during the installation.  Closing night is Dec. 2, at which time installation will be complete.  Jazvac anticipates a large closing night crowd.

We are pleased to support the university’s research on expanding the current perception of Canadian history.  In addition to its longstanding reputation as an “icon of the Canadian wilderness”, the canoe can now be considered a symbol of the Canadian Middle Ages.

Outside of Canada are other canoe related sculptures….as I noted in the opening of this post on Christopher Fennel’s Canoe Wave. Here are some other examples:

Photo of Basalt Canoes, Smith Lake, Oregon, from http://www.columbiariverimages.com/Regions/Places/smith_bybee_lakes.html.

In Las Vegas another example of an installation of canoes was erected in front of the Aria Hotel….from http://motiongroove.com/2009/12/11/not-much-to-update/, comes these photos with the following descriptions:

this a crazy sculpture at the Aria Hotel, if you look closely you will see these are all canoes, probably over 100 canoes were used for this art piece.

closer look at the canoe art piece.

In San Francisco, from http://www.artbusiness.com/1open/021210.html, comes this photo of a canoe sculpture:

From New Zealand, from a blog called Gorgeous With Attitude (a blog by a couple of Kiwi, stay-at-home mums – femivores if you like – living on opposite sides of the world….who get excited about all kinds of things from slow-food,permaculture gardening, farming and pets to art (especially public sculpture and Maori art), local history,trains, fabulous walks, nature, beautiful things in general…), http://gorgeouswithattitude.blogspot.com/2009/11/waka-sculpture.html, comes this description and photos of a very interesting sculpture:

Waka Sculpture

Miranda (NZ)

This new roundabout in Hamilton is graced with this magnificent sculpture. It represents seven waka (Maori canoes). The artist is Aucklander, Dion Hitchins in association with local Hamilton artist James Ormsby.

According to the Hamilton City Council web site, the arrangement of the seven waka represents the Kingitanga symbol of the Matariki star constellation (Maori new year). Each waka has symbols of local significance on it – such as a Kowhai flower, eels, a fire.

It`s incomplete – to be added is a cluster of tuna (eels) suspended in the shape of a hinaki (eel net). Each of the waka will be up-lit and LED lights will illuminate the symbols and the eels. The sculpture is located in a suburb of Hamilton called Rototuna (roto meaning lake and tuna meaning eels), hence the significance of eels. At the moment it`s on the outskirts of town and a bit remote, but I understand the main state highway bypass will eventually join it.

Of course this is just a sampling of canoe sculptures….there are many many more….some you may like….others you may not….I still don’t know if $100,000 is what Christopher Fennel’s Canoe Wave is worth (you could buy a lot of wood canvas canoes for that….but then it might be a good use for aluminum canoes LOL LOL)….and the canoe is truly a beautiful art form in whatever that form of art takes….whether in a sculpture or a painting or a photograph….even on its own the the canoe is a beautiful thing….especially a beautiful dream of a canoe like this:

Photo by yours truly.

In my opinion, wood canvas canoes are truly the most beautiful of canoes….and yes I’m biased LOL LOL.

Beautiful things made by hand carry within them the seeds of their survival. They generate a spark of affection. For some it’s sentimental, for some it’s the art of the craftsmanship, for some the beauty of the finished boat. People love these things and try hard to ensure they endure.

The survival of the wood-canvas canoe (to paraphrase John McPhee) is certainly a matter of the heart; a romantic affair. The economics are unfavorable. In fact, the wood-canvas canoe’s most conspicuous asset and advantage is that it’s a beautiful piece of art. It’s the Shaker rocking chair of outdoor sport – handcrafted, simple, clean, and functional. There’s nothing in it that doesn’t have to be there, but all of the pieces add up to more than the parts. It works well and looks wonderful doing it. – From Honeymoon With A Prospector by Lawrence Meyer

Paddles up until later then….and no matter what type of canoe you prefer, enjoy the canoe as an art form….especially in the ‘wave’ of canoe sculptures.