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Canoe Cup

Northeastern Woodlands

early 19th century

wood, brass tacks

height: 5 ⅞"
width: 3 ¼"
length: 1 ½"

Inventory # W1500a


acquired by the Diker Collection, now at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY


Marius Barbeau, Collection, Quebec
Harold Groves, Sarasota, FLA  


Bernstein, Bruce and McMaster, Gerald (eds). First American Art: The Charles and Valerie Diker Collection of American Indian Art. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2004, pg. 215
Indigenous Beauty: Masterworks of American Indian Art from the Diker Collection, David Penney et al., New York, NY, Skira Rizzoli, 2015, pg. 162


Pleasing the Spirits, Ewing, Ghylen Press, New York, 1984, pl. 364

The Guennol Collection, The Brooklyn Museum, Vol. III, 

Royal Ontario Museum no. 38424 - See: Patterns of Power, Phillips, McMichael, 1984, pl. 92 

Canoe cups were used by Indigenous, Métis and French Canadian and Scottish fur traders who traveled the North American interior. Tied to a sash worn around the waist, they were used to collect fresh drinking water from birch bark canoes while traversing lakes and streams. The masterful carving and elaborate design of this exceptional canoe cup suggests that it might have been a presentation piece rather than a utilitarian tool. Trade with First Nations peoples was often accompanied by reciprocal gift-giving, as the exchange of European items for Indigenous-made works strengthened alliances. The most remarkable feature of the present cup is a sculpturally carved beaver towering over the back of a handle modelled like a scroll. The figure is flanked by two more beavers as well as a number of fish carved in low relief across the entire surface of the ladle - apt subject matter given that the fur trade centred around beaver pelts, and traders had to become skilled in fishing to survive in the Canadian wilderness. Brilliantly conceived and masterfully executed, this canoe cup one of the finest examples extant.