M2201 | Chair back panel

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Chair back panel
Anonyme - Anonymous
Eastern Woodlands
Aboriginal: Mi'kmaq
1845-1855, 19th century
Birchbark, spruce root, porcupine quills, organic dyes
32.5 x 40 cm
Gift of Mr. David Ross McCord
© McCord Museum
Keywords:  Chair back (2)
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In 1845, the Mi'kmaq began making porcupine quill chair seats and backs for sale to individuals or furniture makers to be mounted on chair frames. The larger pieces, with their intrinsic use of space and colour, are some of the best examples of Mi'kmaq art. Set in the entranceway or drawing room of elegant homes, such chairs must have been greatly admired by visitors, and the subject of many a conversation.

Keys to History

After 1845, the Mi'kmaq began producing larger items intended to be used with chairs, loveseats, tables or even cradles. Panels such as this one, veritable mosaics of coloured porcupine quills and birchbark, were sometimes sold to individuals or to furniture makers for placement right in the frames of tables and chairs.

This chair back is adorned with geometric motifs unique to the Mi'kmaq nation. Note, as well, the heart shape so popular with Europeans and readily adopted by Aboriginal artisans. This back would have been set in a chair destined for a living room or boudoir-the centre of a wealthy Victorian family's social life. A Mi'kmaq chair back would attract the attention of visitors, thus stimulating conversation ... and perhaps envy.

  • What

    This birchbark panel would have been inserted into the back of a chair. Its heart shape makes it very rare -- only two other similar chair backs are known to exist. It is decorated with porcupine quills coloured using organic dyes.

  • Where

    It is not known where this chair back was produced. We do know, however, that it was made by a Mi'kmaq artist. David Ross McCord recorded that the item was purchased in Lorette (now Wendake), a Huron-Wendat community. The Huron-Wendats sometimes served as intermediaries for Mi'kmaq artisans.

  • When

    This chair back was made in the mid-19th century.

  • Who

    There are only two other known heart-shaped chair backs in existence. It is possible that all three of them were made by the same Mi'kmaq artist.