Monday, March 30, 2009

Cultural Products Seconds

Last week was an unexpectely hectic week. I had a couple of suprise orders that had to be filled very quickly.

It got me thinking about the Cultural Products seminar two Saturday's ago. A lot of my artifact reproduction work falls under the umbrella of Cultural Products, and I know that some craft producers are curious about how they can get involved with making and selling cultural products.

The end of March is the end of the fiscal year for Federal and Provincial organizations, like Parks Canada or The Rooms. That means that the money in everyone's budget has to be spent by March 31st or they risk receiving proportionately less money the next year.

The Terra Nova Harpoon was an order that came out of year end money and last week a couple people at The Rooms found extra money in their budget that needed to be spent quickly. I had some extra product on hand that fit what they were looking for and I refered them to the Craft Council Shop in Devon House for a few more pieces. Whenever I fill an order I always try to make a small number of extra items, so that I have pieces on hand for just this sort of quick sale. I also find it more efficient to work in bigger batches and you always need product on hand for shows or surprise customers.

Some of the product that The Rooms bought could be classified as Seconds. Seconds are the pieces that don't quite meet a craftsperson's standards, but that aren't completely rubbish either. A ceramic plate or bowl that develops a hairline crack in the kiln is an example of a Second. I don't normally think of myself as producing seconds, but I do have pieces that break or are flawed for one reason or another. I tend to hang on to them, thinking that I may reuse the material down the road. In retrospect, however, I've got a lot of sales out of seconds and they tend to be in the most demand at the end of the fiscal year.

Artifact reproduction seconds work great for simulating artifacts in hands-on teaching situations. The majority of artifacts that archaeologists find are not the flawless museum showcase peices that make good reproductions for the gift shop. Most artifacts are broken and discarded objects that were no longer worth the effort to mend or rework by the people who made them.

Seconds can be good analogs for those artifacts. If a museum or university is running a hands-on program like a sandbox dig or mock laboratory program for students or tourists, they may be looking for your seconds. Its cheaper for them to fill up their programming with your cast-offs, its better for you to sell the pieces than throw them away and the programme participants get a more authentic experience because in most cases seconds are more like the damaged and discarded originals than your best work.

Pricing was a little tricky, because every piece was different. Some were broken while I was making them, some were abandoned at an early stage of manufacture, and some were complete pieces that had broken after they were finished. (As an aside, almost every artifact an archaeologist finds at a site could fit into one of those three categories, which is probably why seconds make such good artifact reproductions.) The pricing solution that worked for me was to pick an arbitrary price point and create groups of pieces that I could sell together at that price. I picked $50 for my sets. The sets ranged from a dozen small stone or antler pieces to a single unfinished soapstone lamp. Since these were seconds I didn't really consider the time that had gone into them when I priced them, for me the value of the objects were based on the likelyhood that I could re-use the material in the future. It was easier for me to think about the sets in $50 bunches and I think it made it easier for the customer to organize their selections. In the end we mixed and matched a bit between the sets, but it was an easy place to start the conversation.

It is kind of another chicken and egg scenario -- it probably hard to break into the cultural products seconds market unless you are already producing cultural products firsts. But still, its an option that exists, and in my experience its been worthwhile mentioning that I have broken or damaged pieces to musuems shopping for artifact reproductions.

Enough of that. I'm back to filling wholesale orders this week. For my office work I'm going to work on updating my website. I'd like to add Paypall and a shopping cart. From a preliminary look around It seems much easier to add check-out options to a website now that it was 5 years ago.

Photo Credits:
Tim Rast

Photo Captions:
Top: Broken Bifaces/Cultural Product Seconds
Bottom: Collecting up seconds. The little groups in the photo are $50 bunches of seconds, organized by culture.

Friday, March 27, 2009

What is Elfshot?

I was listening to The Current this morning on CBC radio and the second segment of the show was about elves in Iceland. So it seems like a good day to blog about Elfshot.

So, what is Elfshot? Not so long ago, when people found stone tools in their pastures and fields they didn't have the benefit of the modern science of archaeology to explain their origins. In many countries people thought that the tiny stone arrowheads were made by elves or fairies who had been out shooting the cattle. Stone arrowheads were called Elfshot or Fairie Darts or Elf Arrows.

Here's a fantastic example of Elfshot from the National Museums of Scotland. Its a 19th century charm from the highlands. I love this charm, if there are any craftspeople reading this who feel inspired, I can make the stone, can you make the setting?

In some countries these beliefs are so strongly ingrained in popular beliefs that they are still affecting policy and industry today. On the Current this morning they were discussing the widespread Icelandic belief in Elves. This belief is so strong today that protecting elven habitat is part of the environmental impact assessment process for companies looking to break ground in the country. Here's an article that goes into more detail on Icelandic Elven Impact Assessments.

Apart from my obvious interest in "Elfshot" I find this fascinating as an archaeologist. Much of the archaeology work that I've been involved with has been Cultural Resource Management (CRM) which assesses the impact that construction projects will have on historical and archaeological resources. Archaeologists have the benefit of having tangible artifacts and sites to support their claims of mysterious ancient people, and even so it can be difficult to explain the significance of the evidence to the client. So I can definitely feel for the folks who have to try to re-route a road to avoid an invisible elven habitat that exists in another dimension!

There's a longer post in here about oral traditions and archaeology, that I'll come back to on another day. In the arctic, the Inuit have always maintained that they were not the first people on the land. There was another people who they called the Tunit. In the last 80 years or so archaeology has caught up with the Inuit knowledge and the people that archaeologists call the Dorset or Palaeoeskimos seem to be the same people who the Inuit call the Tunit. The Tunit stories considered along side the archaeological evidence of these people can provide a fascinating and unique portrait of an extinct people.

Photo Credit:
Top, National Museums of Scotland
Bottom, The Rooms

Photo Caption:
Top, 19th Century 'Saighead Shith' or 'Fairy Arrow' charm from Scotland
Bottom, Tunit/Dorset Paleoeskimo soapstone carving from northern Labrador

Thursday, March 26, 2009

North Atlantic Archaeology Update

Just a quick note to follow up on yesterday's post. You can now purchase copies of North Atlantic Archaeology Vol 1. 2008 from me for $35 plus shipping. I mailed one last night and shipping in Canada on the book alone is only $3. International orders or orders combined with other Elfshot product will have shipping rates calculated at the time of order. Unfortunately, I can't offer the student discount, so students should still contact Lisa Rankin directly.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Ramah Chert

I found out a couple weeks ago that I got published in 2008! Lori brought me home a copy of the journal yesterday. My contribution is a pretty informal write-up that I did about an evening of knapping Ramah chert in 2001, but there are some really interesting articles in the rest of the volume. There are a couple of articles about Snack Cove, Labrador, which I mentioned in an earlier blog about my favourite barrel lid dartboard. There's also a well illustrated article about some of the spectacular caches that have been found in Labrador.

North Atlantic Archaeology Vol. 1 2008. Lisa Rankin at Memorial University of Newfoundland's Archaeology Unit is the contact person to buy a copy; $35 (or $25 for students). For Ramah chert enthusiasts, this looks like a good journal to have on your shelf.

Ramah chert is a peculiar stone from Northern Labrador that seems to have captured people's imagination since the source was found by the Maritime Archaic Indians several thousand years ago. The stone is found in archaeological sites throughout Newfoundland and Labrador, into Quebec and the Maritime Provinces. There was an isolated find of a Ramah chert arrowhead in a Viking grave in Greenland and within the past year its been identified in collections from Manitoba. Archaeologists and flintknappers seem drawn to the unusual appearance of the stone, which has been described by Jim Tuck as looking like slush on a windshield. The Innu say it looks like caribou grease.

The remoteness of the quarry source in Ramah Bay adds to the stone's mystery. At first glance the sugary texture of the stone doesn't appear to be an ideal candidate for flintknapping compared to some of the extremely fined grained cherts throughout the province. However, when you actually knap the rock it performs above average and it turns out that its a pleasure to work. There are very good, functional reasons to choose this particular stone above others.

Whitridge's Sampler is set of Labrador reproductions made from Ramah chert that I did for Pete Whitridge, who has been doing archaeological work in Northern Labrador for several years. He contacted me after one of his field seasons to tell me that he'd visited the Ramah quarry and that he had a piece for me. The only thing he asked in exchange was that I make an endblade or two out of it for him. An endblade is the stone tip of a harpoon and they are about the size of the end of your thumb, so I was expecting a fist-sized core. When I went to pick up the rock from him he gave me a core the size of a cinder block! I didn't feel that one endblade was quite an appropriate payment, so I made up the Whitridge sampler to say 'thanks!'

Photo Credits:
Tim Rast

Photo Captions:
Top, Journal front and back cover.
Middle Right, Large Core of Ramah Chert
Middle Left, Cover of Whitridge's Sampler
Bottom, Ramah Chert Bifaces in the sampler.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

2009 Provincial Craft Wholesale Show

Traditionally, the Provincial Craft Wholesale Show is held on the March weekend with the worst weather. This year was tricky, since we had great weather for the weeks leading up to the show and there was some concern that we might not get a blizzard at all. But sure enough on Saturday morning we woke up to snow, blowing snow and a Winter Storm Warning.

Saturday was a day of seminars and booth set-up. I was on the Cultural Product Development Panel and we had a surprisingly well attended session with 12-15 producers in the audience plus 8 or 9 panelists and organizers.

Sunday, the show opened to the buyers. At a wholesale show the buyers are placing orders to stock their shops for the summer tourist season. You don't see a lot of people, but those who do come through the door are placing sizeable orders. The weather was good on Sunday (well, better, at least) and I found this year to be one of the best in terms of orders. Half the orders came in from new customers and half were from people who have been carrying my product for years. Both are important, you want to see growth, but you also need to see that your product is selling and the retailers are coming back for more.

The seminars and workshops continued on Monday, but I took most of the day off. Lori and I had to sign some papers with our Mortgage Broker. It took a couple stabs to get the re-financing approved because the first lender that our broker tried had never come across a Self-Employed Archaeologist before. They had no data to put in their magic formula to assess our potential income and/or risk. When they questioned "archaeologist" as a profession, our broker, Ian, said " * ".

Today, I need to layout a production schedule for the wholesale orders, clean up the workshop and put away the trade show boxes. I'm also ready to drop of the Dorset Palaeoeskimo Harpoon for Terra Nova National Park. I used it as set dressing over the weekend in the booth, but now its ready to deliver it.

I tried something new with the endblade and I'm happy with the results. Its tricky to make very thin Dorset tip-fluted endblades. Thin is easy and tip-fluting is easy, but to get both features on one endblade is difficult. I started on an oversized microblade this time and was able to get good tip-fluting on a very thin biface.

*Something funny, which I'll tell you later, but which I removed here on advice from my **.

** Omitted at the request of Lori.

Photo Credits:
Top, Lori White
Middle & Bottom, Tim Rast

Photo Captions:
Top, Me in Elfshot's 2009 Provincial Craft Wholesale Show booth
Middle, The Dorset Palaeoeskimo Harpoon bound for Terra Nova National Park
Bottom, The tip-fluted endblade (chert), harpoon head (antler), and line (faux sinew, hide glue, seal skin)

Thursday, March 19, 2009

New Product: Groswater Palaeoeskimo Knives

So here's the finished Groswater Palaeoeskimo asymmetric knives that I mentioned in an earlier post. I went with two different style handles based on palaeoeskimo knife handles found at two different sites. I'm happy with both of them as archaeological reproductions - there is a random roughness about the baleen wrapped handle that I really like. On the other hand, as a marketable 21st century craft object I'm going to go with the sinew binding.

Groswater Paleoeskimo Knife
Top $115 (Retail price, Tax inc), Bottom $175 SOLD (One-of-a-kind, tax inc)

A lot of the aspects of the baleen knife handle that appeal to me from an artifact reproduction point of view work against it as a craft product. Its more labour intensive, the baleen is much more exotic and expensive to acquire than sinew, and its a little less tidy looking in the finished product. Baleen has a hardness and strength comparable to plastic, unfortunately it can sometimes look like plastic. I intentional left it rough and stringy to better match the original artifacts from Greenland, but needed to seal all those loose ends in with a thin coating of hide glue, which accentuates the shiny plastic look of the baleen. Its a little frustrating because all that adds up to an interesting artifact reproduction, but as a craft product I think its first impression would be messy, over-priced, and probably fake looking. And that's all before the issues of try to export sea mammal parts.

I think I should fire my PR person - that new product review sucked. I probably should have spent more time promoting the product I intend to market and less time bashing the one I don't.

Like most of the reproductions that I make I'm fairly confident about the stone blade while there is a little more guesswork involved in the handle. I don't know of any Groswater Palaeoekimo knife handles that have been found. (Does anyone reading this know of something? - I'd appreciate the heads-up) There are good examples of hafted palaeoeskimo knives from a slightly earlier time period in Greenland as well as a slightly later time period in Labrador. So I've drawn from both of those sources and went with something in between.

Qeqertasussuk, Greenland. This site dates from 3900-3100 years ago and offers a unique glimpse at palaeoeskimo life from this time period because of the exceptional organic preservation. The knife handles here tend to be flattened towards the blade and rounded at the grip. They were composite handles, made from two halves that pinched the blade and were tied together with sinew or baleen. The blades are un-notched and the hafting area of the handle isn't well defined with notches or grooves.

Avayalik Island, Labrador. The later Dorset Palaeoeskimo handles from Northern Labrador are a little different. Instead of two pieces they are made from one piece of wood with a slot cut in one end to accept the knife blade. They seem to be much slighter than the Saqqaq knife handles, some of them taper to a narrow rounded grip that reminds me of a artist's paintbrush handle. Others handles are flat and rectangular. They also have a well defined groove where the binding material, probably sinew, would be tied. The blades here have narrow side-notches.The handles that I came up with borrow from both of these sources. I didn't want to haft a Groswater knife in a Saqqaq handle or Dorset handle, I wanted something in between. The shorter knife with baleen lashings is a little more Saqqaq inspired and and the longer one with the sinew binding is a little more Dorset.

When I make reproductions like this I consciously try to build in a lot of variety. Each one will be different. That's important to me since I don't really know what a Groswater Palaeoeskimo knife looked like and if I make the same form over and over again I can inadvertantly create a style in my mind. That style might not be based on anything other than a pattern that I invented and fell into the habit of using.

Photo Credits:
Top, Bottom: Tim Rast
Middle: scan from Bjarne Grønnow article

Photo Captions:
Top, Groswater Palaeoeskimo Knives. The top knife is made from chert with a softwood handle and bound with sinew and hide glue. The lower knife is the same but with baleen and hide glue lashings.
Middle, Illustration of Saqqaq knife from Greenland. From Grønnow, Bjarne 1994, Qeqertasussuk -- the Archaeology of a Frozen Saqqaq Site in Disko Bugt, west Greenland. In Threads of Arctic Prehistory, edited by David Morrison an Jean-Luc Pilon, Archaeological Survey of Canada, Mercury Series Paper 149.
Bottom, Dorset Palaeoeskimo knife from Avayalik Island, Labrador in the archaeology collection at The Rooms, St. John's.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

New Product: Fibre Optic Brooch

New Jewelry for 2009 - Fibre Optic Brooches - $46.00 (Retail Price, tax inc)

Just in time for the Provincial Craft Wholesale Show this weekend, a brand new addition to Elfshot's line of jewelry - Fibre Optic Brooches! Available in a range of brilliant colours.

The new artifact reproductions are drying and I'll post an update on them shortly.

Photo Credit: Tim Rast

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Ioffe Site

Part of the responsibility that came with being a resource archaeologist on the High Arctic Adventure cruise last fall was holding an archaeology permit with the Government of Nunavut. The final report for that permit is due by the end of March, so I finally finished it this weekend.

Insomniacs can download the report here.

Four of the sites we visited were known sites, but we did find one new site on Devon Island. We went onshore to view a herd of musk ox. This is a video that I took of the herd. I didn't realize it at the time, but those dark clusters of rocks on the horizon between the two groups of musk ox are the tent rings and caches that make up the Ioffe Site.

Here's a brief summary of the site:

The Ioffe Site (QdHi-13)

The Ioffe Site is an historic Inuit campsite on southern Devon Island that was found by passengers and staff making a shore visit from the Akademik Ioffe. On September 23rd, 2008 approximately 80 passengers and 12-16 staff landed to hike and observe a herd of musk ox. We found the site by chance towards the end of the excursion and the total time spent on the site was less than 45 minutes. There was very little snow on the ground, so we had good visibility of the site.

The site is located on the southern shore of Devon Island, between Croker Bay and Dundas Harbour. It sits on an eroding beach terrace approximately 4.5 km west of Lemieux Point and approximately 250 m south of beach ridge airstrip. Its elevation is approximately 5 masl.

The site consists of a series of caches and tent rings that appear to be of historic Inuit origin. There are 5 caches located close to the beach – two of which were partially eroding into the sea. Set back from the caches there are 4-5 tent rings. Some of the tent rings were very scattered and may have been reused. One stone ring was next to a rectangular gravel berm, perhaps from a more recent tent. Elder Jamesie Mike identified a stone dog den, that may have been built to allow a mother to have pups in. He also identified a partially dismantled fox trap. Closer inspection of the “fox trap” suggests that it may have actually been a toppled inukshuk. In total, 15 features were observed at the site and their locations were recorded using a handheld GPS.

  • 5 Caches
  • 4-5 Tent rings
  • 1 Rectangular gravel berm
  • 1 Dog den
  • 1 Fox trap/toppled inukshuk

Identifiable bones at the site included seal, caribou, whalebone, musk ox and bird bone. There was a substantial scattering of bone throughout the site, especially towards the sea and in the vicinity of the caches. All of the bones are weathered white and had significant lichen growth. The lichen growth on the associated bones suggest some age to the site, although one piece of cut Caribou antler seemed to have been cut with a metal saw. The cut had parallel sides, with a square straight base, similar to cuts made by a carpenter’s saw. No artifacts were collected from the site.

Based on the elevation of the site, the lichen growth, the presence of caches and tent rings and the evidence of metal saws on the site, I suggest a historic Inuit context, perhaps 19th century. There are oral traditions of this area being occupied by Pond Inlet fugitives during the 1850s. This site would not be inconsistent with that time period.

Some of the features may be more recent than others. In addition to the more modern looking rectangular gravel tent berm, there was cut lumber scattered and piled across the site and we found duct tape and cigarette butts near the dog den.

Photo Credits: Tim Rast

Photo Captions:

Top, The Akademik Ioffe ship and the Musk Ox herd. The dark clusters of stone on the horizon just above the musk ox is the Ioffe site, named for the ship. The larger of the two piles is the dog den.

Video, Muskox and Ioffe Site in the background

Left, Dog Den identified by Jamesie Mike

Bottom right, Antler artifact, showing evidence that it was cut with metal tools.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Asymmetric Knives and Mortgages

I've been scattered all over the place so far this week. I haven't been able to spend much time on the Korea order, Terra Nova harpoon, or the wholesale show.

I've got a lot done, but so far its mostly been peripheral to the work that I thought I wanted to do on Monday. There have been a lot of good visits with family and friends, I got my taxes filed, there was a CCNL executive meeting on Tuesday morning and a meeting with a mortgage broker and our lawyer yesterday morning to talk about refinancing to take advantage of the good mortgage rates at the moment. We have an appraiser wandering through the house this morning. We only bought here 5 years ago, but the St. John's housing market has been really strong ever since, so I'm curious to see what we find out.

However, the clock is ticking on the wholesale show and I'm going to have to focus on getting prepared for that. I've decided to have Fibre Optic brooches for my new jewelry product and Groswater Palaeoeskimo asymmetric knives for the new reproductions. I'll work on those and the harpoon today.

The Palaeoeskimo lived in Newfoundland from about 2800 years ago to as recent as 1200 years ago. They were arctic adapted people and this was their southernmost range. They moved south onto the Island of Newfoundland through Labrador from the Arctic. The culture that archaeologists call Groswater Palaeoeskimo predates the Dorset Palaeoeskimos and was probably ancestral in some way or another.

Both groups made very small chipped stone tools and one of the diagnostic tools of the Groswater were asymmetric knives. Although some of the broken or discarded examples of these knives might seem relatively short and squat, they probably all started as long narrow knives. They seem to have started out with a bit of a curve or bend to them and this asymmetry was accentuated through their life as they were used and resharpened.

We don't get good organic preservation in most of Newfoundland, but similar knives from Greenland have been found hafted in wooden handles, which I'll use as the model for the handles on the Elfshot reproductions.

Photo Credits: Tim Rast
Photo Captions:
Top and Bottom, Groswater Palaeoeskimo Asymmetric Knives from Burgeo, Newfoundland each chert knife blade is approximately 3-5cm

Monday, March 9, 2009

Provincial Craft Wholesale Show is coming soon

I'm trying to figure out my work schedule for the rest of March today. I dropped off the Craft Council shop order on Friday so today is a fresh start on new work.

The next major event in Elfshot's Calendar is the Provincial Craft Wholesale Show on March 21-22, 2009 at the Holiday Inn in St. John's. It won't take a full two weeks to prepare for, but the production work that I do now will fit around that weekend. I have the wholesale order for Korea and a request from Terra Nova National Park for a Dorset Palaeoesimo Harpoon reproduction. If I can have some of those pieces done in time for the show, then they can help fill out the display.

Wholesale shows are a little different from retail shows in that you don't need to have product on hand for buyers to take away with them from the show. You have examples of your product and take orders. Its also a place to introduce new products to your customers. I have Fibre Optic brooches in mind for this years new jewelry, but I also like to have a new artifact reproduction in the line up. I need to come up with something fast. Usually I experiment leading up to the Fine Craft and Design Fair and get a sense there of what new product is working and what isn't. The new product that I introduce at the wholesale show has already been tested out on retail customers shopping for Christmas gifts. But I didn't attend the Fine Craft and Design Fair this year so I don't have that information.

The only wholesale show that I do is the one here in St. John's.
Most of my wholesale orders come from existing customers outside of the show, but I still think its important to let people know that I'm still alive and producing. Its very inexpensive to attend and I always get a few orders that I wouldn't otherwise know about, but I mostly do it to keep my face out there. I think that buyers need to know that you are a reliable producer.At the wholesale show I'll be participating on the panel of one of the producer seminars called "Cultural Product Development". Its description; "There are many opportunities to develop culturally based products for sale to tourist and other markets. In this seminar we will discuss some of these opportunities and how craftspeope can profit from them." If you wish to participate in the seminar it runs from 11:00am-12:30pm on March 21, 2009 - Registration information is here.

Photo Credits: Erick Walsh
Photo Caption:
Top, Elfshot Acrylite Point of Sale display loaded with Product
Bottom, Elfshot Banner

Saturday, March 7, 2009

My Favourite Dartboard

I'm going out to play darts with a bunch of friends this afternoon. I'm especially looking forward to it today because a friend of mine from Texas is in town and I haven't seen him in years. In 2002, I worked for Chris while he was doing his MA fieldwork in Labrador. He was excavating at archaeological sites at Snack Cove near Cartwright, Labrador.

It was an important year for me. From 1999 to 2001 I was involved with a large community archaeology project at Bird Cove on Newfoundland's Northern Peninsula. It was my first big archaeology job coming out of grad school -- I was initially a crew chief and then one of two project co-directors. Days before we were supposed to go into the field for the 2002 field season we learned that we wouldn't be getting our ACOA funding for the year. Basically, I was out of a job.

I had started Elfshot in 1997 and while Bird Cove kept me busy from the spring to the fall, there was still a downtime in January-March that Elfshot fit into nicely. By 2002 I knew that I was turning down Elfshot jobs and that I might be able to expand the business beyond those 3 months, but I had no idea if there would be enough demand to fill up 12 months of the year.

When Chris' Snack Cove project came up I jumped at the opportunity to work in Labrador and the remote location and small crew meant plenty of time to ponder the future. We played a lot of darts. I'm in the habit of taking darts into the field with me, but we didn't have a dartboard. We stayed in an old wooden cabin with a few run down fishing stages around it. In one of the buildings I found an old wooden barrel lid and working from memory we turned it into a dartboard. The 8, 14, 15, & 16 were in the wrong places and you had to throw the darts really hard to make them stick, but we got a lot of use out of it.

By the end of the summer I'd decided to give Elfshot a go full time and its kept me steadily employed, contract to contract and order to order, for the past 7 years. I wasn't happy about losing the ACOA funding at the time, but without that shake-up, I wouldn't have gotten the push I needed to make a go of Elfshot as a craft business.

I was at a Craft Council Shop committee meeting yesterday afternoon and one of the things we were discussing was ways to deal with the downturn in the economy. Newfoundland seems to be in a bit of a bubble, the brunt of the recession hasn't really hit us yet, in fact, the shop sales in December 2008 were the highest on record. It was amazing, but we can't expect to stay unaffected forever.

If there is a silver lining to this downturn, I wonder if we will see a surge in new craft producers? It took losing my job for me to make the entrepreneurial leap and go to work for myself fulltime. I'd wager that there are other people who may be going through exactly that same thing right now. Its a scary decision to make, but if it works it can be very liberating. When you are your own boss you can put the numbers on the dart board in any order you choose.

Photo Credits: Tim Rast
Photo Captions:
Top Right, Groswater Palaeoeskimo endblade in situ, Snack Cove, Labrador
Left, A foggy day in Snack Cove. The building in the picture is where I found the barrel lid.
Middle Right, My Favourite Dartboard
Bottom Right, Arctic Cotton, Labrador

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Happy Birthday Lori!

Its Lori Day in town! It only comes once a year, but it stays for 365 days.

Here are a couple photos that may or may not have been taken last summer. The person depicted in the moose flap cap is doing top secret research for an un-named archaeology subcontractor hired by a mysterious international environmental consulting agency. The unspecified agency was hired to prepare a confidential feasibility study for the development of a resource that I can't tell you about by a nameless client at an undisclosed location in Nunavut.

Here's an interesting thing about Lori that you might not know. She has the ability to call seals. She was trained in the technique by Inuit friends from Pond Inlet and Iglulik. Here she is perched on a seal calling rock at the ocean's edge. She'll take a beach cobble and rub it against the boulder. The grumbling vibrations travel through the water and if there is a seal nearby his curiousity will draw him towards the sound. Using this technique she was able to entice this bearded seal close enough to the shore to have his photo taken.

This fellow was eventually released from her siren call and swam away unharmed. Which was lucky for him -- boiled bearded seal tastes like a fish pork-chop. mmm......

Photo Credits:
Left, Ainslie Cogswell
Right & Bottom, Tim Rast

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Fibre Optics Arrived!

I got a shipment of fibre optic glass today, which will form the bulk of my next big wholesale order. Its another CCNL order, but this time the product is being shipped to Korea for sale. This fall, there is a massive Craft Biennale in Cheongju, Korea. Canada is the official guest country and there are going to many venues showcasing our awesomeness. One of the ways we are participating will be to send product for sale in the Cheongju International Craft Market. So if you are reading this in Cheongju because you are interested in learning about the fibre optic glass jewelry that you bought - thank you - and here's a picture of your jewelry on the day the unworked slabs arrived at my home in Canada.

I order my fibre optics as slabs from a veteran flintknapper named Craig Ratzat who owns a flintknapping supply shop called Neolithics, located in Oklahoma. I get my obsidian from Neolithics as well. The fibre optic slabs are about 1/4" thick and I'll use a tile cutter to score and snap them into rectangular or triangular blanks. After that I knap them like any other glass or stone.

When the slabs arrive they are a little dusty from the sawing process, so they aren't as bright as the finished pieces will be, but you can see the fibre optic filaments quite well. If you look lengthwise down the slab towards a bright light you will see a honeycomb pattern. You're looking down the end of the individual fibre optic filaments that have been fused into a solid brick. Knapping across those filaments is like cracking through hundreds of tiny mirrors. That's why fibre optic glass is so much more reflective than normal glass.

Photo Credits: Tim Rast
Photo Captions:
Top, Unpacking the fibre optic slabs from Neolithics
Middle, Looking down the end of a fibre optic slab, detail of filaments
Bottom, Finished fibre optic pendant ready to string

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.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Who Made the Dinosaurs?

I watched Bill Maher's movie Religulous over the weekend. One of the more memorable segments was a visit to the Creation Museum in Kentucky. One of the star attractions of the museum are the 80 lifesize dinosaur sculptures and animatronics shown alongside human beings. There were saddles on triceratops and animatronic T. Rex's running behind animatronic human children. The thing that I found remarkable was the quality of the dinosaurs. It made me think - who made these things? Where do you find the designers capable of creating hyper realistic Cretaceous-era dinosaurs, but at the same time are willing to install them on a model of Noah's Ark?

I met a guy at a dinosaur egg museum in southern Alberta who was an interpreter at the site and a model maker. He needed to know a lot about biology and palaeontology to create lifelike models of the dinosaurs found at the site. The creative side of his job went hand-in-hand with the science of the site. You can't make those models without knowing a lot about dinosaurs and you can't know alot about dinosaurs without knowing that they lived millions of years before human beings.

I'm an archaeologist, so the reproductions that I make for museums have nothing to do with dinosaurs (at least in every museum in the world other than the Creation Museum). I've been fortunate that I have only been approached by organizations who I trust to accurately represent the materials that I provide them with. The only time I can recall turning down work from an ethical standpoint was when a tourism operator wanted to buy reproductions so that he could plant them on beaches and make spontaneous "discoveries" when he pulled up with groups of kayakers. But declining that contract only cost me a couple hundred dollars -- I can't imagine what a contract for producing 80 life-size dinosaurs would be worth.

Anyhow, the dinosaurs in the Creation Museum got me thinking about some of the difficult choices that makers face when we're approached to do a job. Jeff Goldblum said this in another movie about creating dinosaurs and I think it could apply to the fabricators of the Creation Museum's animatronic dinosaurs;

"your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn't stop to think if they should."

Have you ever had to decline a job that you could do because it was at odds with what you felt you should do?
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