Monday, 10 July 2017

Object Assessment: Paddle F.0013 (Solomon Islands)


(Source: UCL Ethnographic Collections)
Red and black pigments are very visible, loss of white pigment.
(Source: UCL Ethnographic Collections)
The handle is not as decorative as the blade.
Object F.0013 is listed and described in the Ethnographic Collections  at UCL’s Anthropology Department as a paddle – carved and painted in red, white and black designs. It measures approximately 165 cm in length by 15 cm at the widest point on the blade, and is only about 5 cm thick. The object has been claimed to be originally from the Solomon Islands, Melanesia, and previously held within the Wellcome Collections before entering the Ethnographic Collections. The paddle is light in weight and designed for aesthetic pleasure due to the painted carvings, which have remained somewhat intact, and induce the fact that it was not intended for hard, laborious ocean work. Haddon (1937, 84) notes that the blades on the paddles from the Bougainville and Buka islands in   the northern Solomons are an elongated oval, not so sharply pointed, and characterized by remarkable designs, sometimes human figures, in red and black paints and on a white ground.

There has been a tremendous amount of loss concerning the pigments, the white pigment in particular, which once covered the backdrop as suggested by the remaining stains appearing all over the background of the paddle. The blade forms an elongated oval tapering down towards the handle, and is not as sharply pointed as some of the other paddles within the Ethnographic Collections, nor does it have a decorative crutch. Haddon (1937, 84) has theorized that the whole blade may represent a fish. Paddle F.0015 is the most similar object within the collection.

(Source: UCL Ethnographic Collections)
Low relief carvings, almost undetectable without raking light.
The design on the paddle was carved in a very low relief by outlining the compositional components with a sharp implement and removing the surrounding wood to produce subtly raised images (Kjellgren 2007, 165). There are very small pieces of wood that seem to be splitting or cracking where some of the designs have been carved, as they are extremely brittle, which could be a consequence of changes in relative humidity. The object has been housed, uncovered on a large wall mount in the Material Culture Room along with numerous other paddles, held together with padded ties, leaving it exposed to dust particles and light damage. 

(Source: UCL Ethnographic Collections)
Damage is visible as chips to the black pigment and splits in the wood.
Melanesian dance performances are a complex cultural form with many purposes and significances, while most of them employ the use of many hand held objects, which possess a magical energy. There are many native groups among the islands that practice paddle dances, however the exact significance of these performances is unknown, they have been speculated to be focused on puberty, initiation, or death (Chowning 1977, 63). 


Chowning, A. (1977). An Introduction to the Peoples and Cultures of Melanesia, 2nd ed. London: Cummings.

Haddon, A. (1937). The Canoes of Melanesia, Queensland, and New Guinea. Honolulu: The Museum. 

Kjellgren, E. (2007). Oceania: Art of the Pacific Islands in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art. 

This post refers to coursework done for ARCLG142 (2016-17), one of the core courses of the UCL MA  Principles of Conservation. As part of their assessed work for this course, students were asked to investigate objects from the UCL Ethnography Collections at the UCL Department of Anthropology. Here they present a summary of their main conclusions. We hope you enjoy our work! Comments are most welcome.

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