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Root Club/War club: by Russell Joe, Penobscot c/1940-50


Root Club by Russell Joe with his distinctive carved and painted chief's face, painted chip carved handle; C/1940-50. 27" long, handle is about 3" diameter at top, 2.5" diameter at bottom - root bundle is about 9" across and 9" deep. There is one of Russell Joe's root clubs portrayed on page 7 of a small book "Spirits in the Wood" by Joyce Butler - a catalog for a 1996 exhibit at the Center for Maine History. There were 3 other examples listed as exhibited but not photographed. Russell Joe's root clubs and other works had carved heads that jutted out from the work - like the carvings on a prow of a boat. This is a plain's style chief's face with a full, trailing feathered headdress painted on. The large root points have been sharpened and painted with a flat red paint. The handle has one chip carved design at the top front and the rest has been painted with a flat black paint.

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 early 1900's until the 1970's-80's many root clubs incorporated designs that appealed to the tourists who bought them. Paint was first added during this era, some of it glossy (but not this piece). Designs such as western style headdresses (such as this one) appealed more to the non-native buyers as it seemed to them to be more "Indian" than the traditional Wabanaki chief's headdress which had feathers standing upright and encircling the head. Here Russell Joe has added only one design to the handle, on the top front of the handle. But it is a traditional design and the chip carving is deep, symmetrical and attractive.

NOTE: If you are in USA - Since this item is over $300 - I will ship it free. Should you be charged for shipping during check-out either contact me for a revised invoice OR pay for the shipping which I will refund to you prior to shipping this club to you.

Please click on photo to enlarge - Photos appear here as square which cannot show this long rectangular piece. If you click thru as a slideshow, further descriptions will be given with each full photo.

Root Club - Russell Joe, Penobscot
Root Club; chip carved front - Russell Joe, Penobscot
Root Club; side view - Russell Joe, Penobscot
Root Club;  other side view - Russell Joe, Penobscot
Weight: 3 lb