Friday, April 1, 2011

Dog Whip

Central Arctic Whip
This sealskin whip was the last piece, number 17 in a set of 17, for the Central Arctic set that I began working on at the start of this year.  I only shipped it a week ago, but it seems like forever ago.  As with the other reproductions in this contract, the original artifact that this whip is based on is in the collection of the Canadian Museum of Civilization.  You can see the original whip that I used as a reference here:

Antler handle and sealskin thong

sewing with gut cord
The last couple of weeks have been a blur - I didn't even measure the length of the whip stretched out, but it was somewhere around 8m long.  At its core is a single, long thong of sealskin.  Towards the handle end there are several layers of sealskin sandwiched around that centre strand and held in place with a leather lace that is threaded through a series of holes punched through all those layers of hide.  Finally, around the end of the caribou antler handle and the base of the whip there is a final sealskin sheath sewn in place with a strong gut cord.
I'm not sure of the exact length, but I think its at least 8m from end-to-end

dried and antiqued gut lacing
Whips like these were an important part of the dog team equipment.  It would have been used to encourage a lazy dog who wasn't pulling his fair share of the sled's weight.  Each community in the north has its own distinctive style of whip.  According to the CMC catalog, this is a Netsilik style whip.  I used pieces of leather from several different seal skins, but it used up a lot of hide.  There's pretty much a whole sealskin in one whip, which I found a little surprising.  There's just so many layers to it.

Antler handle before fitting
Part of the antler handle was visible in the reference photos, but the end of it was secured inside the whip, so I looked at other whip handles for references.  This style has a hole through it, and grooves on the distal end to help secure the hide to the handle.  Finally, there's a loop of leather around part of the whip where the skin meets the handle to create a strap to fit over the wrist.  I antiqued it with charcoal and antler dust.

At home in the snow
I tried it out in the backyard. and was pleased that after the days of lacing and sewing it actually worked.  I didn't use it on any dogs, but it sure groomed a lot of snow.  I wish I'd had more time to play around with it and it was so labour and material intensive it will probably be quite a while before I make another one.  Its really at home in the cold and snow.  The stiffness in the line works itself out quickly as it absorbs moisture from the snow.  Dry and indoors, it feels a little rigid, but outside and slightly damp the weight and flexibility feel very comfortable.

Mini-museum in the basement
All of the pieces in this set have now been shipped and received by the client.  A lot of work and research went into all.  I shipped it in two batches, so I don't have any group shots of all 17 items together and they ranged in size from thimbles and needles to harpoons and arrows, so it would be tough to show everything in a single image anyhow.  Still, I'll do one more post summarizing the whole project and indexing all of the summary posts for each reproduction in the set.

Photo Credits: Tim Rast


  1. I visit your site daily and am constantly amazed at the wonderful artifacts you produce. The people who survived and thrived at high latitudes were incredibly ingenious.

  2. Thanks Bruce, Hopefully in the New Year I'll have a few new high latitude reproductions to share.


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