Flutopedia - an Encyclopedia for the Native American Flute

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Image: Nancy Lewis (Mi’kmaw) Holding a Flute

Nineteenth century travellers to British colonies often kept journals to preserve their impressions and drawings colonized peoples and landscapes. Some of these journals have been incorporated into official documents that chronicled the relationships between white colonizers and First Nations peoples. Many amateur women artists assembled travel albums or scrapbooks including drawings, watercolors and paintings of their travels. One such album was constructed by Lady Amelia Falkland (1807–1858). Among the Nova Scotia images painted by Lady Falkland herself and two local amateur women artists are a number of representations of Mi'kmaq individuals ([Reinhart 2005] Lady Falkland's Travel Album: Negotiating Colonial and Feminine Discourses).

This painting of Mi'kmaq elder Nancy Lewis was orignially mounted in the Lady Falkland album, but is now loose. It is oil on canvas, 21.6 cm × 20.3 cm (8.5″ × 8.0″), painted in about 1845. It is attributed to Lady Falkland herself, painted during a sojourn to Nova Scotia from 1840 to 1846 as the wife of a highly placed British colonial administrator, Lucius Cary, 10th Viscount Falkland. Lady Amelia FitzClarence Cary, Viscountess Falkland was the youngest of ten children of William IV, King of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland (1830-1837) and his mistress Dorothea Jordan.

Nancy Lewis (Mi’kmaw) Holding a Flute; attributed to Lady Amelia FitzClarence Cary, Viscountess Falkland

The Lady Falkland album was purchased at auction in London by the the National Archives of Canada on May 18, 1922 from book dealer Thomas Thorpe for £12.10 ([Reinhart 2005] Lady Falkland's Travel Album: Negotiating Colonial and Feminine Discourses). It is now part of the Library and Archives Canada collection, accession number 1990-207-76 and is available at the Mi’kmaq Portraits Collection of the Nova Scotia Museum as image MP0160.

This is the only image in the Mi’kmaq Portraits Collection that depicts a musical instrument of any kind, according to the liner notes of [Tulk 2009], page 9. That reference further describes the history of Mi’qmaw flute playing:

Curiously, there are no archival recordings of Mi’kmaw flute-playing, nor are there Mi’kmaw flutes in museums. Bird bone whistles and small flute-like instruments have been found at a Maritime Archaic burial site in Port au Choix, Newfoundland, but a connection between these artifacts and Mi’kmaw culture has not been established. Explanations for the seeming lack of flutes can only be speculative; it may be that the flute was believed to hold so much power that it was not widely used, especially in public or in front of explorers or missionaries (preventing collection of examples for museums). It is also possible that, given their fragile construction and a seasonally migratory culture, flutes simply did not survive the natural elements.

The thesis of Metilda Reinhart, [Reinhart 2005] Lady Falkland's Travel Album: Negotiating Colonial and Feminine Discourses, has extensive information and analysis of this painting in the context of other Lady Falkland paintings of Nancy Lewis.

See The Development of Flutes in North America / Nancy Lewis (Mi’kmaw) Holding a Flute for context of this image in the development of North American flutes.