Black Sheep Gallery It is difficult not to fall in love with the artwork when I am preparing the images for the newsletter, and this month it has happened again with the oxen carvings we are featuring. Oxen were a very important part of the Nova Scotia culture. Pairs were trained together starting when the oxen were very young, and the owner often formed a bond with his oxen because of the long hours required to train and groom them. There are many stories of the oxen saving their owner’s life when they were involved in a farm accident.

The wooden yokes with custom made horn pockets are unique to Nova Scotia. They were traditionally painted red and often had ornately decorated forehead pads with brass accents. It is also traditional for oxen to wear bells around their necks. The tone of the bell was a signature of who owned the oxen. Oxen in Nova Scotia are usually called only two names, Lion and Bright. So let’s meet some examples of Lion and Bright.

Many of us remember the brass thumb tacks with a star in the centre from school. The first pair of oxen we are featuring are lucky enough to have the “star” tacks along with red tacks and are finished off with metal horns with shiny metal tips and delightful metal bells tied around their necks. This is a perfect example of the tradition of folk artists incorporating found objects in their work. This pair features horn tips and bells made from what appear to be the metal parts of ball point pens likely purchased from the local five and dime store. And don’t forget to take a look at the braided tails. Priceless!

We do not know the name of the artist that carved the second ox we are featuring this month but inscribed in pencil on the bottom is “found in Kemp, Yarmouth County, N.S.”. Yarmouth County was known for its ox-pulls and parades, some of which continue today. There are still several country exhibitions and 4-H shows throughout the Maritimes in the summer and early autumn. The draw to these exhibitions is often the ox pull, when these big animals follow their teamsters out into the arena to pull a 500-pound stone boat loaded with cement blocks.

You can see and feel the satiny texture of the hide of Don Boudreau’s well groomed oxen. These oxen epitomize the old maritime adage, “smooth as a trout”. Donald, who passed away in 2000, was a respected carver whose work has been featured in From the Heart, published in 1983, and is included in the permanent collections of the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia and the Canadian Museum of History.

The proud oxen pulling the homemade red cart with wooden wheels demonstrates the place oxen had in the rural Nova Scotia community. Nova Scotia’s first oxen came to Port Royal in 1610, with French explorers. They pulled stumps and hauled logs to clear the land and build homes, pulled the plow for planting, and stood in knee deep salt water to pick up fish and seaweed from the sea. In winter they pulled logs to be used to heat the early settler’s homes. This rendition is primitive with googly eyes and the artists fingerprints are visible on the side but, as with all the carvings featured today, it captures the importance these majestic beasts played in the farmers’ lives.

We also have a pair of oxen pulling a red cart on Tom Rector’s page. Tom, who lived in Halfway River, was a favourite of ours. He did not start carving until he was in his late ‘80s, and he was always a joy to visit.

Stay safe, everyone.

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