Accession number: 016.07.28
Date: 1800 – 2016
Materials: Organic, Porcupine Quills; Wood, Birch Bark
Measurements: 40.3 cm L x 25 cm W x 1 cm Thick
Narrative: This is an example of quillwork traditionally made by Indigenous people. During the late 19th century quillwork furniture became popular due to European trade. This chair back features an eight-pointed Mi'kmaq star which was a common motif during this time period. The star represents the different districts of the Mi'kmaq nation.
How it's made: birch bark would be harvested from healthy trees around the late spring early summer. Once the bark has been collected it is left to dry. Birch bark was used due to it being naturally waterproof and rot resistant.
Porcupine quills are natuarlly white but can yellow over time due to a natural grease and therefore must be washed first. Before commercial dyes were available berries, flowers, lichen and other plants were used to create dyes. The quills would be boiled in a mixture of water and choice of plant/berry and taken out when the quill was the desired colour. Dock root was known to produce brighter and stronger colours while gooseberries and currants prevented colour fade. Once dried the quills were clipped to allow air to escape and would be soften again just before using. Quills dry fast and harden quickly so the artist must work fast.
In addition sinew or spruce roots could have been used to stitch together two pieces of birch bark.
Description: Porcupine quills painted in teal, red, black, yellow and some left natural, are arranged in decorative fashion of Indigneous origin. Motif in centre displays an eight pointed star design. Design is mounted on birch bark. It is in the shape of a seat back made for a rocking chair.