Tradition, Change and Survival: Mi'kmaq Tourist Art
Alexandre Dubé, McCord Museum
Miniature canoes, delicate little dolls, expertly woven baskets - such objects have fascinated and seduced generations of collectors and travellers in Canada. These are objects that bear witness to the abilities, innovative spirit and aesthetic tastes of the Mi'kmaq communities along Canada's Atlantic coast.
For centuries the Mi'kmaq have translated the wealth of their experience and culture into objects that are both practical and artistic. After the arrival of Europeans in North America, the Mi'kmaq had access to new materials, and quickly began using them in their creations. Wool, silk ribbons and glass beads were worked alongside birch bark, porcupine quills and moose hair in a variety of forms blending traditional motifs and European styling.
The Mi'kmaq developed a flourishing trade in these objects, which were appreciated by Euro-Canadians for their beauty and treasured as mementoes of their travels in North America. Like all souvenirs, these objects helped their purchasers recall events, encounters and moments gone by, and they continue to fulfill the same function even today. These objects equally reveal something about the tastes and expectations of those who acquired them as 'typically' Native. Of course, what seemed typically Native to buyers was often far removed from reality. But such souvenir items also remind us of the Mi'kmaq women who sewed, embroidered or decorated them - of the women who put something of themselves into each of their creations.