This month’s artifact choice is a set of 9 maple leaf carvings that I have been researching the last few weeks. When I first came across them I noticed that there was writing on the back regarding their particular histories, which for some reason was not in our computer system. The story of the leaves starts with the man who carved them, Gilbert Nickerson of Shag Harbour, Nova Scotia.
He was known as the “Old Chairmaker” and collected wood from ships to make into chairs, maple leaves, and other interesting pieces. In one of his chairs he is even reported to have used a piece from Titanic. The southern area in Nova Scotia where Nickerson lived was rather treacherous for ships and so a great number of them were stranded or sank, causing lots of wood to drift ashore.
The text on the above leaf says “This leaf is from wood from the American Ship Columbia, stranded in the spring of 1866 on Duck Island, near Bon Portag. She floated off, and finally came around on Prospect Island Shag Harbour where she was broken up. There is no record of her. This leaf was carved by the Old Charmaker, Shag Harbour.” On the front of the leaf is a picture of Nickerson himself. I’m not sure why he put a picture of himself on the leaf, but we have two like that and another one can be seen in the National Maritime Museum’s collection, here.
This second leaf says “This leaf is from wood from the S.S. Carthagena stranded on Baccaro date not known, coal laden bound west. Her History not known. Leaf Carved by the Old Maple Leaf Carver. Shag Harbour. Call and see him.” So it is clear that while Nickerson probably got a lot of joy out of carving these pieces, they were also used as advertisements to show his work.
Nickerson spent his whole life in Shag Harbour and died there on March 2, 1945. He is buried at the Chapel Hill Cemetery. His legacy continues to live on through his fantastic work.