1868 – 1950
A TRANSFORMING TRIP
Tappan Adney was just nineteen when he first visited New Brunswick in 1887. He was a bright, talented American student from New York, about to enter Columbia University. The journey by coastal steamer, paddle wheel riverboat and train, to visit the Francis Peabody Sharp family in Woodstock, was the first great solo adventure of his life. The wilderness, wildlife and Native people he discovered in New Brunswick had a profound effect on him. His brief vacation lasted nearly two years and inspired the rest of his life.
A chance encounter with the Maliseet Peter Joe constructing a birchbark canoe beside Lane’s Creek, and their ensuing friendship, had a transforming influence on Adney, leading to his lifelong study of Maliseet people, culture and language. His fascination with birchbark canoes eventually culminated in the publication of The Bark Canoes and Skin Boats of North America, and his recognition as the world’s foremost authority on the subject.
ARTIST AND WRITER
Forsaking further academic studies, Tappan Adney instead launched a career as a writer and artist, publishing illustrated outdoor adventure stories in popular New York based magazines of the day. Frequent visits to New Brunswick and Nova Scotia replenished his reservoir of experience and stories.
He also illustrated for other authors, including several hunting articles by future president Theodore Roosevelt. The early 20th century’s most popular field guide for birders, Handbook of Birds of Eastern North America, was largely illustrated by him.
In 1897 – 1898 he covered the Klondike Gold Rush for Harpers Weekly and London Chronicle and the Nome Gold Rush of 1900 for Colliers, as one of the world’s first photojournalists. Adney’s acclaimed book, The Klondike Stampede, still in print, is one of the best books on that manic, fleeting era.
MINNIE BELL SHARP
In 1899 he married the equally ambitious and outspoken Minnie Bell Sharp (1865 – 1937).
A talented, classically-trained pianist and singer determined to make her mark, Minnie Bell was also one of the first women in the British Commonwealth to stand for parliament. She is one of New Brunswick’s most dramatic and unconventional historic figures.
Tappan Adney is widely credited with saving the birchbark canoe from oblivion. He is today best known for his canoe book and its companion collection of 110 one-fifth scale model bark canoes, documenting all major tribal types in North America and worldwide. His model canoes and precise miniatures of other Native artifacts are in museums in both Canada and the United States.
During his long, colorful life, Tappan Adney’s expertise became extraordinarily diverse; art, writing, photography, heraldry, Native linguistics, anthropology, ethnology, and more. In the words of his friend, the noted author, Dr. G. Frederick Clarke, he was simply “the most remarkable genius I have ever known.”
He died in Woodstock in October, 1950 at age 82, alone and penniless, but near to the woods and Native people of New Brunswick that he loved so much.