Tuesday, April 12, 2016

"At Your Peril!"

As I mentioned in my previous "Initial Research" post, I was intrigued by the weaponry Riel had at his waist.  And as you can see here to the left, it was nearly impossible to identify which make and model of pistol or knife he was carrying, or make much sense of the revolver's holster or the knife's sheath from the photo engraving published in the Canadian Illustrated News.

That level of detail might get you by if you're a painter, painters can introduce shadows to conceal a lack of detail, but for me, a portrait sculptor, lack of detail reduces the character shadows bring. I wanted to confirm my suspicion that the revolver was a Colt and that the knife was a particular brand of Bowie. A Bowie knife refers to a style of hunting/fighting knife that has a wide single-sided bladed that transitions into a double-sided/double curved blade as it curves into a very sharply pointed tip. The sheath for a Bowie requires a metal overlay at the tip to protect the wearer from injury.

My research into which revolver makes were available in Upper and Lower Canada in and around the 1870's turned up the Canadian Militia, London Colt Model 1851 Navy Revolver which was manufactured in 1856. Approximately 800 Model 1851 revolvers were purchased to arm Canadian Militia. These iconic pistols, with their octagonal barrels, were the first handguns officially purchased by the Canadian government. They were highly prized and found their way into the hands  of the lawful and the lawless.

I did the same exercise with the Bowie knife and although I was tempted to go for a rather nice Bowie with a horn handle I could just barely make out the metal knob on the butt end of the knife, there above his re-etched hand, and the knife's fighting guard at the handle, which matched this knife. The knife was produced during this time period. Further, it seemed to me, given Riel's penchant for style, that this was the most plausible choice of the knives I uncovered with my research.

When I put all that together with what I squintingly made out as a custom-made, open-barrel ended, riveted leather holster and a scabbard and belt with Métis bead and leather thong accents I get the following pre-maquette illustration of the ensemble. I will refine the illustration more as I move forward.

Add in the awesome and deadly M1866 Canadian Peabody, compression-firing rifle, chambered for the .50-.60 rim-fire cartridge, The buttstock of these rifles would have been marked CM (Canadian Militia) or marked DC (Dominion of Canada).

...when I do an overlay on the Canadian Illustrated News photo with these weapons and accessories...
Voila...something I can get started with!

I believe you can see more clearly now that the hand on hip and the knife handle don't "jibe"! So, the hand on hip is hip...story!  I certainly won't be "perching" a fur hat on the Peabody either. And, of course, since it's a sculpture the homey scene in the background is gone. A Louis Riel...with his rifle at-the-ready and closer to his body, his revolver cover unfastened with the Colt clearly and menacingly visible, and his hand on his fighting Bowie. (The more I look, it seems the right arm has been tampered with in the engraving too, to swing the rifle out like that in the military "at-ease" position.)

The sculpture pose that's shaping up in my head is even more powerful! Statuesque! More Lincoln...less Davy Crockett. In my artist's mind, I imagine the pose Riel struck for the original photo, the one the newspaper engraving was based on. Riel would have wanted to send a message to those in power...the Government of Canada. A Lincolnesque..."Confront me at your peril!" We will get a first glimpse of  "At your Peril"  as my clay model starts to take shape in the next few weeks.

Squarek overlay!
The un-retouched photo below, from the same time period, shows a somewhat beleaguered Cree Chief Poundmaker, who was implicated in Riel's rebellions. He is openly sporting a Colt, holding a compression-firing rifle at-the-ready, which might well be the short barreled Peabody, and grasping the handle of his Bowie. Note that his rifle is not swung out to the side as I doubt Riel's was.

Cree Chief, Poundmaker