Saturday, September 22, 2012

Kayak Models

A while back, an article on kayak models appeared in the journal Qajaq. The gist of the article was that models are not to be trusted since most of them were made for sale in the tourist trade and that craftsmen making boat models for the tourist trade soon learned that making an accurate scale model of a kayak takes way too much time for the money it payed, so they learned to take all sorts of short cuts.  I believe the article was written mostly about kayak models built in Greenland.  The concluding sentiment of the article was that models were worthless for serious anthropological study.
And the article has some merit.  But recently, in looking at models of Unangan kayaks, I am of the opinion that a good deal can be learned from them. The things you can learn from models is probably endless, but let me point out just a few things by way of specific examples. But first, just a few general comments.
The most obvious and recurrent lesson to be learned from kayak models is the overall view.  Models show us how the whole thing was put together.  We get a picture of the whole ensemble which we seldom have a chance to get in any other way.  The way artifacts are collected is usually one item at a time, or a bundle of items without any clues on how they all fit together.  Then the museum stores them by  category and breaks up all the things that belonged together at one time.  Harpoons here, paddles there, hats in a drawer, kayaks on a rack and so on.  Everything is split up.  Models fortunately allow related items to stay together.  Other clues are more statistical and can be informative if we look at a number of models.  For instance, what sort of kayak was most common, one hatch, two hatch or three hatch?  What sort of hats were kayakers wearing when the models were made?  What sort of game were hunters going after based on the implements on deck? And so on.
Not much in the way of a deck load and the paddles have gone awol.  But there is a bailing tube on deck. Also, the lower ranking paddler, the one in front is wearing an open crown visor while the paddler in back is wearing a full crown model. And the hair of both paddlers is long and white and both men have beards. 
This model is of a three hatch kayak and shows the man in the bow holding a dart and throwing board.  This model also shows where the darts were stored, what their relative size was, how they were painted and so on.  The paddles are also very nicely carved and appear to be in scale.  Just behind the bow paddler is a wooden canteen, an item that I have never seen in a museum but that appears frequently on models.
This batch of hunting implements has gotten separated from its boat, but the museum has fortunately kept the pieces together.
This boat model is a particular favorite of mine.  Lots of stuff on deck.  The hunters appear to be wearing western head gear.  They have a fish on the line and we can see colored trim on both the kayak seams and the seams of their waterproof skin jackets.
And this model gives us a nice view of two paddles with different paint jobs.  Again, the paddles seem to be accurately proportioned and carved by someone who also made the full scale version of the various deck paraphernalia.