Root Club with carved and painted brave's face, unpainted chip carved handle; C/1900-1920. 23" long, handle is about 2" diameter at top, 1.5" diameter at bottom - root bundle is about 7" across and 7" deep. I have seen other clubs by this unknown carver, there is one portrayed on the back of a small book "Spirits in the Wood" by Joyce Butler - a catalog for a 1996 exhibit at the Center for Maine History. The faces on his work are very similar making his work easy to identify, but his name has been lost. In the early 1900's some root clubs were made to be sold to vacationers, "rusticators". - These clubs had a minimum of painted color (as does this one) and fine detail on the handle (as does this one. Later root clubs made for sale had painted faces and handles and often the workmanship on these was not as fine or detailed. - This club has great carving and design on the handle, fine details. It dates from the early 1900's - which little paint, and the roots and bottom of handle are stained with traditional reddish vegetal stain.
The root club is a truly Maine Indian item - There just aren't examples of these in any other area. Made from the root ball and trunk of a small birch tree, the root club has been documented to have been made pre-European contact. Traditionally used as weapons some later ones were thought to have ceremonial or spiritual use. Very small ones, less than a foot long are thought to have been shaman's clubs. Of all the wood crafts and arts made by Maine Indians, one is unique to them; the art of chip carving. This is done by other cultures around the world, but I believe among Native Americans only Maine's Penobscot and Passamaquoddy tribes utilized chip carving to decorate their tools. Root clubs are believed to be the first item to have been enhanced by chip carving. Root clubs too are unique to Maine tribes.
The bark is generally left on the root ball of the club, except for the root spikes and the area of the face. Often the bottom of the handle has bark left on as well - as does this club. From the bark it is easy to see this club was made from a gray birch. The carving just under the root ball bark is a series of rectangles that go all the way around the top of the handle. Under that are deep chip carved triangles and elongated ovals. Beneath this is an unusual incised design with serrate elements that has chip carved triangles and diamonds. There are smaller chip carved ovals making a trifoliate leaf at the center of this. At the bottom front of the handle is an ash branch. The ash tree figures in the Penobscot creation myth and as such is a sacred plant - The myth says that Glooscap shot an arrow into an ash tree, splitting it and from the heart of the tree - out from the split emerged the people, the Penobscots. The back of the handle has 2 ash branches hanging from the top rectangular design that encircles top of handle. Below that is a lovely unusual design... 3 elongated oval chip carvings on top of 3 elongated chip carvings pointing down. Do not know the meaning of this, have not seen it ... Flower? ... and in the center bottom of the back of the handle is a large upward ash branch.
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