M18510 | Calling card tray

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Calling card tray
Anonyme - Anonymous
Eastern Woodlands
Aboriginal: Huron-Wendat
1840-1860, 19th century
Birchbark, moosehair, cotton thread, dyes
6.5 x 21.3 x 25 cm
Gift of the Estate of Miss J. J. MacFarlane
© McCord Museum
Keywords:  Tray (21)
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Keys to History

In the 19th century, Huron-Wendat women excelled in the traditional art of dying. The colours of objects decorated with porcupine quills and embroidered moosehair, coloured with natural dyes, retain their brightness even today, as seen by this birchbark tray magnificently decorated in the style of the time. The tray was intended to hold calling cards.

Contemporary artists Marie-Paule Gros-Louis and Manon Sioui relate that, to obtain a brownish dye, Huron-Wendat women used walnut bark. Alder bark gave a mauve-black dye, while maple bark to which ferrous sulphate was added (as the mordant) produced a bluish-black dye. The colour yellow was obtained from goldenrod or bog myrtle.

  • What

    This type of tray sat on a table in the entrance hall of elegant homes. The custom of giving and receiving visiting cards was widespread in the mid-1800s. The visitor could indicate the reason for a visit simply by folding one corner of the card, which was then placed on a tray, a plate or some other container set out for this purpose.

  • Where

    This type of tray for visiting cards sat in the hallway of the homes of the wealthy.

  • When

    Huron-Wendat women were influenced by the styles of the Victorian era, as revealed by this tray, made between 1840 and 1860.

  • Who

    Calling cards were very popular in the Victorian era. In response, making trays such as these became one of the specialties of Huron-Wendat women in Wendake.