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Root clubs are a Maine Indian tradition made for centuries by the Penobscot and Passamaquoddy of Maine. Written descriptions from the early 1600's describe Native Americans in what is now Maine and Massachusetts carrying and using what seem to root clubs. Root clubs traditionally were made from the stock and root bundle of the gray birch. The roots are shaped into points and the stock/handle is decorated with cuts called "chip carving". These were originally weapons, but later in the early 1700's some root clubs were decorated in ways that were deemed spiritual and some were used ceremonially.
This root club features a moose head - beautifully carved, quite lifelike in proportion. The carving conveys the size and strength of the moose, an animal still frequenting the Penobscot Nation's lands. The moose is without antlers... indicating a this was either a female (cow) or a male moose (bull) portrayed between December - mid spring. A bull moose only has antlers between late spring and loses them as early as November, but usually during December. He only needs antlers for the fights and displays of breeding season.
The age of this club, 1800-1850, shows in the very very dark patina. The area just beneath the moose's head and just above the band of deeply incised diamonds encircling the club at this point has the outer bark of the tree left on, but it is indistinguishable from the wood due to it's aged color/patina. The designs in the bark are 4 plant stems with very deep oval chip carved leaves, longest stem is on the top of the head. The very 1.75" of the bottom of the club also has the bark left on - there is a vine carved around it with deep oval chip carved leaves. The bottom bark portion is not quite as dark as the top. The handle/stock could also be called the trunk of the tree with the root bundle being the top/head. The handle has 4 incised cross-hatched triangles at the top and bottom ... these have small stamped 1/2 circles beneath them. I believe this is only root club I have seen that has stamping on it (Stamping done with metal object - like a jewelry stamp or ??) Above the long cross hatched triangles are 3 very deep chip carved ovals... this is a traditional Penobscot design, a trifoliate leaf pattern. At the center of the handle is a design of 6 rows, 3 rows above, 3 below center of handle of tiny stamped triangles with even tinier diamonds attached above/below the outermost rows. On the left side at center is a very unusual design, a large incised X with chip carved ovals in the 4 spaces the X creates. This is the side when you view the left of the moose's head.
The club is 22" long, 6" across at "ears" and 8" high at "ears". The handle/stock is 1.75" in diameter at bottom.
While I have seen perhaps 35-50 very old root clubs, pre-1850, this is the only one I have seen with a moose. I have only seen 1 other old root club with a moose, that one was late 1800's. That one had heads of a moose, an elephant and a swan, all very small and each carved in one of the small roots coming from the root ball. Carvers of the 20th/21st centuries have said they carve out what is within the tree. Part of that is a spiritual feeling, part of that is what shapes exist in the unworked root ball and trunk/handle. Here the head of the moose is very large. I have never seen a root of that size in a root ball with a trunk the diameter of this handle (this was a relatively small tree). The unusually large root allowed the carver to see a large moose head and to further shape it to his vision.
Most of the very very old root clubs I have seen are in museums and private collections. Rarely does a pre-1875 root club become available on the market. After 1870 or so root clubs began to be sold by Penobscot carvers to tourists, "summer people" who were building summer homes on Maine's lakes and ocean shore. At that time the root club, first used as "decor" in summer homes, began to gradually change to accommodate the non-native buyers' tastes and ideas of what a root club should be. Here is a traditional root club, with traditional motifs and a very unique feature, a large moose head!