Thursday, September 21, 2006

Carved Effigy made from a Tree Stump

I was walking (tresspassing actually) in the middle of the woods, on the border between Sterling and Leominster, Mass. and had just come from a small ceremonial rock pile site on a slope facing west over a wetland. The slope was along a ridge and as I got to the northern end of the ridge I turned right to climb to the top of the ridge and see what was there. I found something new to me: a human figure carved with an axe from a tree stump and facing northward over a wetland and towards further hills to the north.There was a rusty can next to the figure and it looked to me like an old kerosene can (can anyone identify it?). In the above picture you can get a closer look. Notice the can top has been punctured in two places. I am pretty sure the punctures were made with an axe. If this is indeed a punctured kerosene can, then there must have been some fire making activity at this spot - but I did not see any charcoal. What really struck me was the quality of the work. In this previous picture, from the back, note how the small of the back is hollowed out and the upper part of the buttocks are indicated. This is not the kind of detail a first time wood carver would do. Nor would an in-experienced person be able to carve such a simple but effective face, using an axe.
I have done some figure carving and it is not easy to do, especially not with an axe. This figure is the work of someone who knew how to use an axe and someone comfortable out in the woods. I do not think it is "new age" and, since this blog is a story about hidden activities of the Native Americans, I am only too happy to assume the figure is a ceremonial item, like the site nearby. This figure did remind me of the wooden effigies mentiond in Manitou on page 341.

As for the age of this, I should have payed much closer attention to the wood. Is it oak or is it cedar? Oak can rot away in ten to twenty years. Cedar could last more than fifty years. So there is not that good a date estimate for when the figure was carved. But we can agree it is not very old. Glad I got to see it before it is gone. It was tempted to steal it - a Katchina doll from Sterling. But it is fine where it is, doing its job of watching over the valley.


pwax said...

These are similar to the Ojibway "Medicine Poles" having to do with [is it?] the Medewiwiin Society. But it is not clear if the same practise was present in New England. Perhaps this carving was made by a person transplanted from the upper great lakes region.

pwax said...

Or maybe just somebody having fun. But: what a good job and what is the kerosene for?