Art and Obsession of Tappan Adney
Firefly Books, 2004
Tappan Adney is a lynch-pin in the history of the North
American birchbark canoe. The talented American, who
became a Canadian, almost single handedly preserved the
incredibly beautiful and functional bark boats of a
This is an extremely attractive and elegant book
about Adney along with photos of 110 of his
remaining exquisite scale models of an array of
perfect bark canoes. John Jennings, a Trent
University professor and board member of the
Canadian Canoe Museum was granted access to the
Adney collection housed in
Mariner’s Museum in Newport News, Virginia.
book features a 16-page biography of Adney, but the bulk
of the book consists of superb photos by John Pemberton,
Mariners Museum photographer. The models took an
estimated 20,000 hours of work by Adney over many years.
He died nearly penniless in a small cabin in New
Brunswick in 1950 at 82.
story is a heroic one, the classic case of the right man
at the right time doing the right things. Born in 1868
in Ohio, Adney led an itinerant life as a journalist,
artist and model maker. A trip to New Brunswick, the
home of his future wife would launch what truly became a
heroic obsession with native bark craft.
Adney was a genius in his field. After some great
experiences in the far west covering the Alaska gold
rush in 1900 he spent the rest of his life trying to
find a worthy place to buy and house his growing
collection of model bark canoes. He chose a 1:5 scale
replica since that size still allowed traditional
crafting methods of root, spruce and bark to be worked.
Van Gogh, he tried to peddle his masterpieces he found
no takers. His long association with McGill University
who loaned him money and tried to keep his collection
makes the school look pretty cheap. And, no doubt, like
many brilliant men, Adney was tough to get along with.
He and his ailing wife finally quite Montreal and moved
to a humble shack where he lived out his days continuing
to add and assemble a treasure trove of native knowledge
on bark canoes.
a chance find by the Mariners’ Museum in 1940 to change
his fortunes somewhat. The U.S. institution realized
what a find these models were and purchased them,
settling Adney’s account at McGill and providing him
with some money - most of which he gave away to his
also purchased his extensive research papers which were
eventually turned into a classic scholarly book by
Howard Chappelle who transformed Adney’s voluminous
notes into The Bark Canoes and Skin Boats of North
the model photos contains info about the boat and often
references to the original full-sized models which are
owned by the Canadian Canoe Museum.
is a well known fact that no one makes money from the
canoeing world. It is a love, a passion, that
incorporates an esthetic sense, the stir of adventure
and the love of history and nature. The reward is in the
knowing, the satisfaction of a beautiful craft in a
beautiful land. These are the true rewards. Like some
bark-clad Lord of the Rinds, Adney held on to his belief
and passion in the beauty and history of a craft built
by a forest culture. And, thanks to John Jennings, we
are all the richer for it.
— Michael Peake
A Canoeist’s Sketchbook
Illustrations by Jerry Stelmock
Countrysport Press, Toronto 2003
Canoeist’s Sketchbook is yet another re-issue, being
originally published in 1991. I assume they are not
doing all these rebirths to make this reviewer feel old,
that is the effect however. I recall with
fondness this gentle book from the North Woods of
Maine. The new edition has a new watercolour cover
artwork in addition to the classic pen and ink
sketches by noted canoe builder Jerry Stelmock.
These drawings are in the fine, evocative tradition
of Francis Lee Jacques and Robert Hines.
Robert Kimber is steeped in the Maine North Woods
canoeing tradition. He has
paddled with Garrett and Alexandra Conover as well as
short stories/essays cover a breadth of canoeing
thoughts and actions - a sort of philosophy of paddling.
Though mainly set in Maine, one of the longest stories
is an appreciation of the unique QNS&L train which runs
from the St Lawrence River to the Labrador plateau– it’s
a favourite of the Conovers.
Kimber’s relaxed, gentle and observant style offers
insight, hints and humour to like-minded folks who share
that common love.
— Michael Peake
of re-hatched Kevin Callans
and shakeups in Canadian publishing industry have
settled out and the rebranding of many books has begun.
Callan, the prolific and popular paddler has seen three
of his previous books brought out with new titles that
fitting to the corporate marketing culture, i.e. not
as clever. They are now .part of the series of A
Paddler's Guide to ..
Brook Trout and Blackflies has become
Algonquin Park; Gone Canoeing is now
Weekend Wilderness Adventures; and
somehow Ontario's Lost Canoe Routes kept its
bottom line is they are all superb guide books
written by a knowledgeable and entertaining author.
All have up-to-date colour maps and are loaded with
excellent colour photos.