M196 | Container

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Anonyme - Anonymous
Eastern Woodlands
Aboriginal: Maliseet
1865-1900, 19th century
Birchbark, spruce root, velvet, cotton thread, wool backing, glass beads, brass beads, steel beads
8.1 x 13.7 cm
Gift of Mr. David Ross McCord
© McCord Museum
Keywords:  Box (44)
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Keys to History

America in a Box

This box is a prime example of the material exchanges that gave rise to contemporary Mi'kmaq art forms. The pieces of birchbark are sewn together using the root of black spruce, which has been used for this purpose from earliest times. The box is also made using velvet and glass beads, both of which were introduced to North America by Europeans.

The box thus embodies the taste of Victorian-era buyers, who liked containers of all sorts and shapes, and that of the Mi'kmaq, who decorated such containers with the floral and vegetal motifs they so admired.

Commercial exchanges also led to cultural ones. Trade brought the Mi'kmaq into contact not only with Euro-Canadians but also with Aboriginal nations living to the west of them, for example, the Huron-Wendats from Lorette and the Six Nations Iroquois.

  • What

    This is a box, or rather the remains of one since the bottom no longer exists. It is made of birchbark and covered with black velvet, which was for Aboriginal artisans an expensive fabric. It is decorated with glass beads of various colours as well as with steel and brass beads.

  • Where

    The box is thought to have originated in one of the Maliseet communities of Quebec.

  • When

    The piece is hard to date, although it was certainly made during the 19th century.

  • Who

    The floral beadwork style used on this box indicates that it was made by a Maliseet artist. The Maliseet live near the Mi'kmaq and speak a similar language. There have been frequent exchanges between the two nations throughout their histories.