Porcupine Quill Boxes from the Northern Great Lakes Region
The selection of porcupine quill boxes at Long Ago and Far Away represents work by Eastern Woodlands people from around the Northern part of Lake Huron and Georgian Bay. The methods and artistry are passed from mothers to daughters and grandchildren, although fewer and fewer young people are learning this art form. Quills have been used as ornamentation predating European contact and the boxes have evolved as an art form from early storage units and carrying vessels.
The boxes originate with birch bark, which is collected in the Spring when the fresh young bark is stripped and the tree is left intact. The artist cuts the shapes of the boxes and mathematically calculates where the design will line up properly on the surface of the box.
Porcupine quills are most often taken from road kill, which is plentiful in the far north. The quills are stripped, cleaned and sorted according to color and length. They are often dyed various colors but the lovely white and brown colors are natural. Most of the designs feature the quills laying flat on the surface of the box or woven into a star pattern. A few of the very best artists have mastered using the quills in a vertical gathering, called “tufting”, as a way of accentuating their designs and making them more three dimensional.
Sweetgrass is used for the rims and borders of the boxes. This is a plant that is sacred to many Native people in North America and it is used in most ceremonial traditions. It is collected in the summer months and stored for use throughout the year. The beautiful smell lasts for years and years when stored properly.
Most of our boxes are made by First Nations women artists from Manitoulin Island and the surrounding region along the northern shores of Lake Huron's North Channel and the eastern coast of Georgian Bay. They are mostly Anishnabe (Ojibwe) people. Each box requires many hours of labor in gathering and processing the materials, designing the box, and then painstakingly executing the design onto the medium. Fewer and fewer young people are willing to put in the time and effort to learn this very labor intensive art form.