M114.0-1 | Container with lid

Container with lid
Anonyme - Anonymous
Eastern Woodlands
Aboriginal: Mi'kmaq
1865-1900, 19th century
Birchbark, spruce root, sweetgrass, ash wood?, porcupine quills, metal nails, aniline dyes
Technique: stitches bark, quillwork
8.9 x 12.4 cm
Gift of Mr. David Ross McCord
© McCord Museum
Keywords:  Box (44)
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Keys to History

The Admiration of Others

Euro-Canadians were quick to express their admiration for the art of the Mi'kmaq, both for the skill with which it was created and the novelty of the forms and materials. Wood was not the only resource used by the Mi'kmaq: among the more unusual materials were dyed porcupine quills. In 1609, the lawyer and French colonist Marc Lescarbot expressed his admiration for the vibrant colours of dyed porcupine quills, which were unlike anything he had seen at home in France.

Porcupine quills are, in their natural state, white with dark tips. The Mi'kmaq dyed the quills using pigments extracted from a variety of plants. Since the mid-19th century, they have also had access to commercial dyes.

  • What

    This box is made of birchbark panels sewn together with thread made from spruce root. It is decorated with dyed porcupine quills. The sides, embellished with sweetgrass, are attached with small metal nails. On the top of the lid is an eight-sided star motif.

  • Where

    Although we know this box is of Mi'kmaq origin, we are not sure if it was made in Quebec, New Brunswick or Nova Scotia.

  • When

    This box was made in the early 20th century.

  • Who

    The Mi'kmaq seem to have pioneered the technique of quillwork on birchbark, and their traditional geometric designs are unique.