Historic Coast Salish paddle with rare design returns to B.C.

A Victoria art gallery owner’s passion for what he calls one of his most important finds has inspired another journey across the Salish Sea for a historic First Nations paddle.

Out of the Mist owner Thomas Stark was so determined to buy the Coast Salish decorated paddle last summer that he ended up paying an American art dealer twice the asking price. Stark wouldn’t disclose the price.

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The buzz generated by the rare paddle at his gallery caught the attention of the Museum of Anthropology at the University of B.C., where it will be part of its northwest coast First Nations art collection for two years.

“It’s a really interesting piece,” said Stark, who, after seeing it on the American Antique Dealers website, wanted to return the paddle to B.C. It had somehow ended up at a London antique store.

The paddle has a design on the handle, which is rare. The carved detail on the paddle’s upper grip below its crosspiece features classic Coast Salish design elements.

“It’s a really important piece when you understand that one side of the paddle’s handle, and the front, represent all the known Salish design elements,” he said.

“For its time, it’s probably a third bigger than a normal paddle, so it was a status device that somebody held because of the position he held in the village. It was like a sceptre.”

In a report prepared for the gallery, Alan L. Hoover, Royal B.C. Museum’s former manager of anthropology collections and research, described it as a “significant addition” to the inventory of late 18th- and early 19th-century decorated Coast Salish objects.

A search of published catalogues, online museum collections and consultation with experts did not result in identification of another early Coast Salish decorated paddle, Hoover noted.

“There is no other known paddle with carving on the handle, on the blade, that is Salish before the 1920s,” Stark added.

Grant Keddie, curator of archeology at Royal B.C. Museum, attested to its authenticity.

“It is totally unique,” he said.

“It’s definitely one of the older styles having those unique design features.”


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