The Punt Chair, designed by Elaine Fortin, is on display at a new exhibition at the Royal Ontario Museum, Canadian Modern. This exhibition explores Canada’s innovation and lasting contributions to modern design and craft.
Canadian Modern showcases one hundred examples of culturally significant, limited-edition, and mass-produced objects designed and crafted in Canada, and the stories of insight, experimentation, and innovation behind them.
For hundreds of years carpenters used the natural curve of the juniper tree knees, or roots, to form the ribs of the punt boat small wooden boats used in the in-shore fishery. The grain of the tree forming the curve of the wood without any fasteners, binders or bending of the wood makes it incredibly strong by nature.
French-Canadian designer Elaine Fortin drew inspiration from this intuitive intelligence and wanted the traditional craft to continue on long after the punt boats cease to be made, a very real risk given how the fisheries have changed. The juniper knees are harvested once a year in a short window, by assessing which trees fit the scale and digging up the roots while the remainder of the tree is used for other purposes. The knees are then dried for months to prepare for being made into their new form. Each chair holds the memory of those who use it and carries forward the history of the tree used to make it and a centuries-old knowledge of outport woodworking, ingenuity, and boatbuilding heritage.