Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Beothuk Birch Bark Quiver Progress

The quiver... so far, so good.
My main goal in the workshop this week is to finish the reproduction Beothuk birch bark quiver.  Probably the biggest obstacles to overcome are that I don't have a lot of experience with working with birch bark like this or a pattern to work from.  As far as I know, there are no surviving Beothuk quivers and for a visual reference I only have one contemporary drawing to refer to.      

Detail from a 1773 map by John Cartwright.  I've used this reference before for bows and arrows and have found it to be accurate and plausible representations of the actual implements.  As I make the quiver, I'm finding the details of the quivers design and construction to be equally plausible and helpful.  There are details in the spruce stitching that make a lot of sense. 

The first step in assembling the brich tube was to sew the long seam running the length of the quiver.  I marked out the holes and drilled them prior to lashing them together with spruce root.  The 5 Xs in the foreground of the photo are the spruce root stitches and the pegs running off into the distance are holding the unlashed portion of the tube together through the drilled holes.

One of the big challenges was figuring out how to stitch the middle of the tube.  Working near the end wasn't so bad but as you get farther and farther into the cylinder it became impossible to thread the root through the holes just using my fingers.  I twisted and taped a long wire to the end of the root and used it as a kind of needle to thread the awkard stitches in the middle of the tube.  I don't know what the Beothuk did.  Maybe their quivers were a little longer, or maybe the sewers had smaller hands and arms than me.

I wanted to match a design element on the top of the illustrated quivers and used existing Beothuk Birch Bark baskets as the inspiration for the technique.  In her book, "A History and Ethnography or the Beothuk",  Ingeborg Marshall shows photos of decorated Beothuk birch bark baskets and says that the design was done like porcupine quillwork, but with spruce roots instead.  The designs look sewn in, but in reality, each portion of the design is a separate 2 inch section of root, inserted and folded in place.  I'm working the design into a sheet of bark that will then be stitched around the top of the quiver.

The birchbark sheet with the spruce quill work is shown in place here, although it hasn't been stitched on yet.  The pins are holding it in place.  You can start to see the overall look of the quiver.  There is still a fair bit more stitching to do, it needs some sort of shoulder strap added and then the whole thing will be covered in red ochre.  I'm looking forward to the final product.

I didn't quite know how to close off the bottom end of the quiver, but Lori gave me the solution.  I made a round disc and folded it around the edges, kind of like a coffee filter and inserted that into the bottom of the tube.  There is a small sapling ring holding it in place.  The light coloured band is another section of bark wrapped around the outside of the tube to add more strength to hold the stitches.  I tried sewing the bottom disc in place without that band and the bark started to tear.  If I would have continued, the bottom 3/4 of an inch of the tube would have just peeled off.  Adding the piece of bark with the grain running in the opposite direction seemed to give the tube enough support to stay in one piece.  

 Photo Credits:
1, 3-7: Tim Rast
2: Plate from Howley, James P. 1914 The Beothuck or Red Indians: The Aboriginal Inhabitants of Newfoundland. Cambridge University Press. Cambridge

Monday, September 29, 2014

Pitcher Plants

When I was out looking for spruce roots last week, I was distracted by all the Pitcher Plants in their fall colours.

Photo Credits: Tim Rast

Friday, September 26, 2014

More than just a birch bark tube

The quiver should have a very slight taper from the opening
to the base.
The main project that I'm working on at the moment is a reproduction Beothuk birch bark quiver.  Conceptually, its a simple tube container, but it should also be tough and functional.  It's for a museum display so it needs to be made from the appropriate materials and match the few references that we have for Beothuk quivers.  I'll go into more detail in future posts, but here is a first look at the main body of the quiver.  I've cut it more-or-less to length, although there will be pieces added to each end, so I may need to trim it again to match the size that I'm going for.  I haven't sewn the main seem up the side yet, but I've cut the outside edge of the birch bark to a scalloped or "pinked" edge.  This is a design element common to Beothuk birch bark vessels that have survived in museum collections.  This edge may be purely ornamental, but I suspect it also helps in preventing tears in forming and spreading from the edge, the same as pinked edges work on fabric.

I used a plastic map tube as a form to wrap the birch bark around.  You can see it peeking out under the clothes pins.  You can also see the zig-zag edge running down the length of the tube.  These seem will be sewn together with spruce roots.
Photo Credits: Tim Rast

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Collecting Spruce Roots

A single long spruce root
Collecting spruce roots is one of those fun jobs that is over all too quickly.  Spruce trees have long networks of straight roots shooting out in all directions from their bases.  These roots are just below the surface and easy to access.  Some are quite large but the ones with diameters between a pencil and a sharpie make good, durable lashing materials.  I need a few feet of spruce root lashing to sew a reproduction Beothuk birch bark quiver together.

You can see the muddy path
where the root came out of
the ground and dozens of
smaller criss-crossing roots
The easiest place to collect spruce roots are in clearings in the woods where there aren't a lot of low lying shrubs or small trees between the spruce trees.  A bit of moss and forest litter is no problem.  Sometimes you can see places where the roots are peeking above the ground, but I usually just pick a soft looking piece of ground in the middle of the clearing and kick the dirt off until I start to see reddish-orange roots.  The roots are everywhere, so it doesn't take long to find one.  Pick one that is more-or-less the right diameter and start pulling it up.  You can tug fairly hard on them, but if you feel like you might break it, you can always do a little digging to loosen the ground above it.  While you are pulling up one root, you'll probably expose dozens of others and two or three of them will be about the size you are looking for.  It becomes a game of trying to find the longest, straightest root, with the least forks in it.

It only took 10 or 15 minutes to collect this bundle of roots.  Once the bark is stripped and split there should be 100 feet or so of good lashing material.

Strip off the outer layer
You can use them right out of the ground as lashing if you are building something outdoors, like a lean-to or emergency shelter, but for smaller projects, you'll probably want to clean and split them.  Cleaning the outer bark of the roots is a little tedious, but its not too difficult.  If you are very careful you can use a knife to scrape through the reddish-orange outer layer.  Once the light coloured inside is exposed, you can peel off the outer rind in strips.  A sharp edged stick is a smart alternative to using a knife.  It is just as easy, a little safer, and less likely to inadvertently damage the root.  After the outer bark is stripped, the root will be a pale blond colour.

Don't let the split run away from you,
keep pressure on both sides to keep
the split travelling down the middle
of the root.
Splitting the root down the middle will make it more flexible and less likely to kink as you use it.  To split the root, all you need to do is carefully cut a small slit in one end and start pulling the root apart into two equal halves.  Straighter roots without branches or forks are the easiest to split.  Once the split starts it is very quick and easy to make it grow the length of the root.  You want the split to run right down the middle of the root, so pull it apart slowly and if you see that it is starting to get a little thicker on one side, pull that side a little harder to coax the split back towards the middle.  Its hard to explain, but your fingers will know what to do.

Different diameter roots
give different sized
I don't want the roots to dry out too much before I use them over the next week or so, so I'm going to keep them in a cool dark place.  Which is easy to find in Newfoundland in September.

Photo Credits: Tim Rast

Monday, September 22, 2014

A busy week for the NLAS

Dorset Palaeoeskimo Endblades from
The Anstey Site, Twillingate
I've been home for a little over a week now and already the summer feels like a lifetime ago.  I'm taking babysteps back towards getting back into the workshop and the production side of Elfshot up and running again, but last week was all about the Newfoundland and Labrador Archaeological Society (I'm the current NLAS President).  Last week we had a Board meeting, an Executive meeting, a Planning Committee meeting, and a meet-and-greet at the MUNArch mixer.  Already this week we've issued a Press Release and done one quick VOCM radio interview about our big summer Community Collections Archaeological Research Project.

Photo Credit: Robert Anstey, courtesy of the Newfoundland and Labrador Archaeological Society

Friday, September 19, 2014

Sheshatshiu Archaeology Now On Display

"Archeological exhibit opens in North West River" is an article by Derek Montague published today in The Labradorian about a new display of artifacts from Sheshatshiu in the Labrador Interpretation Centre. The article explains the background of the exhibit based on the archaeological work carried out by Scott Neilsen and his crew ahead of housing construction in the community.  I was asked to make a few reproductions for the exhibit based on the artifacts recovered and this article was my first chance to see the reproductions in use and on display.

From the article:
The highlight of the exhibit is a display of artifact recreations. These replica tools are all based off of artifacts found at the site. They were built using only the materials that would have been available to the Innu 3,000 years ago. 
People visiting the exhibits can pick up the replica tools and imagine how they were utilized.

Scott Neilsen holding a reconstruction of a quartzite biface as an adze or gouge, with other reproductions in their cases behind him.
Photo Credits: Derek Montague, Screen Captures from The Labradorian  

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Adjusting to home life

I don't often get a chance to knap during the summer, but
 towards the end of the season this year, a geologist friend
brought me some Missouri chert that I couldn't resist trying.
The transition between the summer field season and the rest of the year can be challenging.  I don't know whether its more jarring to step out of my regular life in the spring or to be thrown back into it in the fall.  I'm not exactly sure how to explain what it feels like to be gone into the field for three or four months.  Its like taking all of your working hours in a year and lining them up end-to-end and then living them all in a row from June to September.  For those months, the only people you see are colleagues, the only places you go are to your workplace, and all conversations are work related.  The rest of the year is your home-life.  Fortunately, I like my summer work, so I look forward to it and miss it when its gone, but I also like my routines.  It takes time to settle back into my fall/winter patterns and judging by the backlog of e-mails and phone messages it should be a busy winter in the workshop.

Photo Credit: Tim Rast
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