Monday, March 2, 2009

Ivvavik National Park Reproductions

One of the goals of this blog is to serve as a public portfolio so that prospective clients can see the kind of work that I do. This post is about a set of artifacts that I reproduced for Parks Canada last spring (2008).

Parks Canada had a collection of 17 Inuvialuit artifacts from Ivvavik National Park, Yukon and had interviewed elders about their memories and knowledge of the artifacts. The plan was to use the artifacts in a travelling public archaeology exhibit for communities throughout the region. The problem was that the original objects were too rare and fragile to risk damaging them by frequent hands-on use. Casts of the originals didn't feel like the real thing, so Parks approached me to create reproductions made from the same materials as the originals.

Often, I'll work from photos, but in this case it was necessary to have the originals shipped from Winnipeg to St. John's. They needed to be kept in a humidity controlled environment, so I made arrangements with the archaeology lab at The Rooms to store the artifacts there while I worked on them. I took photos and measurements in the lab and periodically brought the reproductions in for side-by-side comparisons.

The artifacts ranged from simple chert flakes and a whalebone snow knife to wood and antler handles and even a forged steel chisel. For the chisel I searched E-Bay until I found an antique framing chisel that matched the artifact and then cut, ground, pounded and and stained it in tea until it was a perfect match for the artifact. Each piece needed its own treatment.

There were 2 steps to the project; 1) Creating the reproductions and then 2) Antiquing the reproductions. Often I'm trying to reconstruct artifacts in a pristine, new condition so that you can see how they would have looked when they were made and used. For this contract that was only the first step and then I had to break, abrade, and even burn the newly created objects so that they would appear to be in the identical condition of the archaeological specimens.

I sign my reproductions with a small "TR" to reduce the likelihood that they'll be confused with actual artifacts.

I really loved this project, if I could spend the rest of my career doing jobs like this then I'd be very happy. The people were easy to work with, the work was challenging and I'm very pleased with how the pieces turned out. When I was packing up the reproductions to ship I had them all laid out alongside the original pieces and was showing them off to a conservator friend who works at The Rooms. In three out of three cases he picked the reproductions thinking that they were the original artifacts.

Photo Credits: Tim Rast
Photo Captions:
Top Right, The original artifacts in their travel case.
Top Left, The artifact chisel and the E-Bay chisel before being mutilated.
Middle Row, Comparison of the artifacts (top) and the finished reproductions (bottom).
Bottom Right, The reproduction wooden plug marked with a "TR" and the original artifact with its Parks Canada Identification number.


  1. This was an amazing feat to watch unfold. The antiquing provided many obstacles and the solutions were often the craziest combination of “ingredients”. My favourite is probably the “lichen” encrusted slate artefact. If global warming wipes out all Artic species – I know who I’m going to for jewel-lichen. I'm incredibly proud of you.

  2. Thanks! Maybe I'll post a picture of the slate reproduction later. It was a very rough slate knife, kind of like a handle-less ulu, with tiny patches of lichen growing on it. The finished reproduction was a close match for the original and they look identical in the side-by-side photo, but its not a very photogenic artifact to begin with.


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