M118 | Pincushion

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Eastern Woodlands
Aboriginal: Mi'kmaq
1835-1845, 19th century
Birchbark, porcupine quills, hair, cotton cloth, silk ribbon, glass beads, organic dyes
7.1 x 8 cm
Gift of Mr. David Ross McCord
© McCord Museum
Keywords:  Pincushion (12)
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Objects decorated with porcupine quills inserted in birch bark were among the most popular items made by the Mi'kmaqs. After the arrival of Europeans, Mi'kmaq artists began augmenting their traditional repertoire with more and more European forms: jewellery cases, hat boxes, flower pots, saucers, lamp shades, waste baskets, tea cosies, doll cradles and all sorts of small containers - for holding playing or visiting cards, storing cigars and keeping glasses, pocket watches or needles.

Keys to History

The sale of souvenirs opened up new opportunities for the Mi'kmaq, enabling them to overcome some of the hardships of living on reserves. For Euro-Canadians, Mi'kmaq objects represented the essence of North America, where the image of Aboriginal people was closely linked to nature. Tourists bought souvenirs hoping to take home with them objects that symbolized the places they had visited. Mi'kmaq objects, whether because their components came from the land, or because of the strong feelings they evoked, satisfied the desire of buyers to have in hand a piece of America.

Pincushions are a good example of the marriage between Mi'kmaq know-how and aesthetics, and the tastes of the Euro-Canadians who purchased them. For women in the Victorian era, pincushions were an essential accessory, a mainstay of their sewing kit, as well as something attractive to look at. Large pincushions were designed to hold long hat pins. A heart-shaped pincushion such as this one might be given to a woman by a friend or gentleman admirer.

  • What

    This heart-shaped pincushion is made of cotton, porcupine quills, glass beads and silk ribbons. It is stuffed with horse or moose hair.

  • Where

    This object was made in Nova Scotia or New Brunswick.

  • When

    This pincushion was made between 1875 and 1900.

  • Who

    Tourists bought many of these pincushions as souvenirs.