This week in Material Culture our class was introduced to the objects we will be studying and using to contextualize Lesley’s history as a sneakbox. Sneakboxes originally served as utilitarian vessels, intended for duck hunting, fishing, and the like. Although Lesley was actually built as a recreational vessel in the 1930s (by which point sneakboxes had become popularized beyond their original utilitarian purposes), this history remains pivotal in understanding the broader history of sneakboxes.
The item I was assigned is an eel fyke net, likely used to catch eels in the Delaware River. In my object observation exercise, I noticed several interesting features. For one, the rod which one holds to use the fyke is made of wood. More specifically, a stick. The net section of the fyke is comprised of eight wooden rings all connected by the twine netting. Twine was also used to tie the wooden rods together into their ringed shape. I was impressed by how the rings were made of singular rods, not several shorter pieces of wood. I found myself wondering what kind of wood was used that could be so flexible. I also wondered what fishermen would treat the twine netting so that it would not rot or deteriorate. As it is, the netting is rigid and I wonder if it was always this way. In sketching the fyke, I focused on the nets weaving. The twine forms diamonds across the hoops, the appearance of which I attempted to sketch as well.
Functionally speaking, the outermost rings of the fyke are connected to the rod by either twine or an iron twist-tie of sorts. These two rings are able to expand across the rod to open the fyke prior to placing it in the water to catch the eels. Considering this fyke originated in the Delaware River area, I wonder what kinds of eels one would catch with this. The object itself is thirty-eight inches long, which should help narrow down the possibilities when I research this later on. Regarding weight, the object itself has some heft to it, but it is not cumbersome. Simultaneously, if one were to catch several eels within this fyke I wonder how much upper body strength one would need to possess to lift it out of the water. Other questions I considered while examining the eel fyke were whether it was bought or handmade by the original owner, how many eels would the fyke hold at once, and how many eels would one need to feed their family on a given night.
When I walked into the archives on Wednesday to meet my object for this semester I could never have anticipated something like an eel fyke, and I look forward to researching their usage historically, and how it all ties back to Lesley and sneakboxes.