The root club is a truly Maine Indian item - There just don't seem to be 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. Carvers trim and sometimes completely remove the bark of the sapling. The roots are sharpened and shaped into points, occasionally an animal or spirit will be carved on a root point. Human or spirit faces or animals are carved in the root ball under the points, sometimes incorporating a root point.
Birch bark is used by Native Americans/First Nations from Alaska throughout Canada to Maine, the Great Lakes regions and most places where birch trees grow. In an earlier news item. “Birch Bark: Most versatile, valuable material of the Wabanakis” many pre-European contact uses were detailed. In that article current Wabanaki birch bark artists were mentioned. In this news item the focus will be on birch bark as an artist’s medium, less functional more salable. There are many ways birch bark has sustained the more Northern Native American peoples through trade and sales.
A cradleboard is a traditional kind of Native American baby carrier used by many Native American tribes across North America. Fewer tribes traditionally made cradles; most of these were made from indigenous woven fibers. Some tribes, such as the Wabanaki of the Northeast began making the European cradle form after European contact. The basket makers of the Wabanaki adapted these European cradle form using brown ash their traditional basketry material or making a cradle of birch bark and decorating it with colorful porcupine quills.
Moose hair embroidery, usually done on birch bark but occasionally on woolen or velvet cloth, began around 1700 was an art practiced by Native American tribes in Maine, Vermont, upper New York state, Quebec, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. Native American girls learned embroidery work in Quebec convent schools run by French Ursuline nuns. French embroidery using silk thread, woven cloth, European needles and scissors was taught in these convent schools. When cloth and silk thread became scarce the nuns and their Indian pupils turned to materials available - birch bark and moose hair.
Drums, flutes and rattles are the three most common instruments used by Native American tribes. The most important of these was and still is the drum. Go to any powwow or Indian event and there will be drumming. Different tribes have different traditions about the drum and how to play it, but the basic construction is very similar in most tribes: a wooden frame or a carved and hollowed-out log, with finely tanned buckskin or elkskin stretched taut across the opening by a sinew thong.
The crooked knife was an essential tool to the Northeast Native Americans. The earliest crooked knives were made from a beaver incisor left imbedded in a portion of the mandible or a beaver or porcupine incisor hafted onto a handle. After European contact, the Northeast Native Americans had access to a variety of metal blades that could be modified to make their crooked knives. The Hudson Bay Company, and other companies that traded with the Indians stocked blades for crooked knives.
Native American tribes have long used beads to decorate their material goods. Prior to European contact beads were made of local materials, shell, wood, clay, pottery, stone or bone, with more unusual materials in areas - such as copper beads made around the Great Lakes. The arrival of Europeans introduced glass beads manufactured in Europe and Asia which have now been used by Native American bead workers for almost five centuries. Along with beads, Europeans brought metal needles, thread, ribbons and cloth which gradually replaced hides, and furs.
Hearts and/or flowers grace items that are beaded or chip carved and are etched on birch bark containers by Wabanaki artists and tribes directly west of the Wabanaki lands. Floral designs are many centuries old and hearts are on items dating to the late 1700's. I don't know if there is research detailing the earliest known heart or flower, but some of the photographs here show examples of older heart/flower items as well as some current. Silver items made by English and French silversmith's in the late 1600's - early 1800's sometimes used hearts to decorate the silver trade items.
Baskets made by the Wabanaki tribes to hold sewing/crocheting/knitting/tatting/quilting materials and tools are and were numerous, these baskets were made in a variety of shapes and sizes from the 1860's through the 1940's. By 1880 sewing baskets made by the Maliseet, MicMac Passamaquoddy and Penobscot basketmakers in Maine and Eastern Canada were major part of their trade economy.
When the first European explorers arrived in the North American North East - birch bark was the predominate material used by the Wabanki. From wigmwams to canoes to moose calls to dolls to quivers to torches to drums to cradles to maple sugar sap kettles - the uses were many and birch bark items were pervasive, supplying items essential to daily living.
PHOTO DESCRIPTIONS: please click individual photo to see entire picture