Artifact of the Month – Maple Leaf Carvings

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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.

Nickerson

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.

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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.

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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.

One thought on “Artifact of the Month – Maple Leaf Carvings”

  1. Hello. Was Googleing today to find out the date of birth of my great-grandfather Gilbert Nickerson, this article popped up. I’m always excited when I come across any information about him and Shag Harbour. Spent many summers there as a child and now as an adult. He was my Moms grandfather. Everyone in the family has some leaves and also some furniture that he made. He is one of my ancestors that I wish I could have a conversation with. He also kept a log book of people who would visit him, where they were from, why they were in Shag Harbour and usually he would give them a leaf, and would log what ship it was from. Some of the ones are hard to read, which sucks!!! And don’t know why he would put his picture on some, but I love those. I believe my sister, mom and me visited your museum sometime in the 90’s when my sister lived in Virginia Beach. We asked about the leaves and were taken to see them and allowed to take pictures and were also given paperwork about them and how they got to the museum (which I just came across while cleaning out my desk). Anyway, just wanted to drop you a line and say how this made my day!! Thanks!!