John Buxton painting

The Agile Bark Canoe

40" x 40" oil



Painting information:


In the early days of the Eastern Woodlands, its native people used the many waterways as travel routes. They built canoes of two types: dug-outs, fashioned from hollowing out tree trunks, and the lighter weight bark canoes. Birch bark was preferred but in regions where these trees did not grow, elm or other bark was utilized. Birch was a tree of the Northern Woodlands so those Indians crafted more bark canoes and lower Nations, the dug-out, but trade among Nations distributed all items.


These short hunting canoes as in this painting, are attributed to the style of the Passamaquoddy. They were as light as an Autumn leaf and very maneuverable, but with the ability to navigate rivers, moderate rapids, shallow streams and marshes. Their light weight enabled easy portage between waterways and yet they were capable of carrying sizable loads.


I own a reproduction Passamaquoddy, used as reference. It is 12 feet long by 30 inches at center and can be lifted with one hand, when dry.  As water fills the bark pores (it does not leak) the canoe becomes a bit heaver and more pliable. A dry canoe tends to be very light but brittle, and should be wet before using -- otherwise spruce root wrappings or even the bark itself can crack when bent.


The short length and narrow width of this hunting canoe can be very tippy, but when loaded -- causing it to ride lower in the water -- it becomes stable. The bark canoe was fast and infinitely more versatile than any small craft of European design, and so was used by white traders as well. It is truly a delight.


This image was included in the February 2009 issue (#18) of Western Art Collector magazine, in an article about The Masters Show at the Autry Museum.



Reproductions of this painting were produced.

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 copyright 2018 - John Buxton

Painting photography by Alexander Patho Photography