CANADIAN CANOE CULTUREstream: How 5 Artists Reimagined Canoe Paddles | Canoeroots Magazine | Rapid Media
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5 canoe paddles painted beautifully. Photo by: ANDY ZELTKALNS

Artists heed the call of the wild to craft beautiful blades.

CANADIAN CANOE CULTUREstream
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Best to leave these works of art on the wall. This fall, creative canoeists painted, etched, burned, carved and knit more than 200 paddle submissions for Algonquin Outfitters’ Tom Thomson Paddle Art Contest.

The contest was designed to be a celebration of both art and paddling for the 100th anniversary of Canadian artist Tom Thomson’s mysterious death on Canoe Lake in Algonquin Park. It more than doubled its fundraising goal, bringing in $20,000 for local charities through an online auction. Contest rules stipulated that the only limit to creativity was that some part of the paddle had to remain a paddle.

We connected with the artists of some of the most eye-catching paddles to chat about their art, canoeing, relationships to Algonquin Park, and why one fiber-arts enthusiast chose to knit a cozy, Tom Thomson inspired sweater for her paddle.

1) NORTHERN CATCH

Artist: TAMARA HOLMAN

Profession: EARLY CHILDHOOD EDUCATOR

Time To Create: 50–60 HOURS

“This was my first time painting on something where the shape really dictated what I could do. The paddle is tall and slender, so I thought of a heron. I’ve always liked herons and I wanted to create my own interpretation of what the Algonquin

area means to me. The quiet, tranquil peace you get up here. Hopefully, no one will dip it in

the water—that’s what the protective gloss is for, but I’m not sure how it will react, and I’m kind of glad I won’t find out if it gets used or not.”

2) THE JOURNEY BEGINS

Artist: CHRISTINE GAGNE

Time To Create: “I NEVER COUNT.”

“On my first canoe trip in Algonquin 25 years ago, I went out in the canoe by myself and came across some shells. I thought it would be neat to paint a couple of loons on them, and later I started painting on feathers and leaves. The flat surface of a paddle is much easier to paint on. This year I took my parents to Algonquin for the first time. I booked the trip and then saw there was this contest going on, so I brought the paddle back home and started painting. I love the wildlife: The bears, the moose, the loons… that’s Canada, that’s Algonquin.”

3) LARGEMOUTH BASS

Artist: JACQUELINE MORIN PROUD

Profession: ARTIST

Time To Create: 12 HOURS

“When I saw the paddle, the first thing that came to mind was that it looked like a fish. My husband asked how I would deal with the fins, and I said, ‘Well, I’ll figure it out when I get there!’ Summer came and summer went, and then one day we were back at the cottage and I figured I’d better get to work if I wanted to make it look real. I knew I’d have to sand it down and tailor the shape. I love working with paint, wood, tools and repurposed items. I had this old binder with this flexible, see-through material and I thought this would add a different texture, so it was just a matter of taking out the router to insert the fins.”

4) TOM’S MAP

Artist: KATIE OHLKE

Profession: HIGH SCHOOL ART TEACHER

Time To Create: A COUPLE OF DAYS

“I love painting on paddles, especially paddles which are older or damaged. I chose a used paddle to give a rustic look and I wanted the paddle to have previous adventures in it. It is a depth map of Canoe Lake in Algonquin Park. I added resin tinted blue as water. It is also marked with key points around the lake Tom Thomson would have found important. While looking out at Canoe Lake, I started thinking about how Tom would have seen it. Not in the painting sense, but in his day-to-day life. He would have thought about lake depth for fishing and his favorite haunts around the lake where he would stay, visit, fish, camp or paint.”

5) SUNRISE

Artist: MARJORIE BROWNLEE

Profession: TEAM LEADER, AGRICORP

Time To Create: 40 HOURS

“My paddle is done in fiber arts. It’s wool and alpaca fibers, needle-felted and glued onto the paddle. The shaft is wrapped in yarn. I’ve worked with these materials since I was a child. I did actually paint a paddle for the contest first, but I wasn’t happy with it. I’m not an artist—I sew, knit and crochet—and I thought this would be fun. I didn’t make the paddle waterproof, but it is felted, so it is kind of pre-shrunk… I wouldn’t recommend putting it in the water.”

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