Native American Porcupine Quill Boxes

The selection of Quill Boxes that are for sale at Three Pines is continously changing. If you are interested in purchasing a Quill Box please call to find what is available. The boxes below are examples of what we have sold previously. You may special order a box. It only takes a month or so.


 

This is an example of a quill box. It is 4 inches by 3 inches in diameter made by Tom and Sally Paquin. It sells for $400. The art of decorating boxes and other garments with porcupine quills is unique to North America. Native Americans living in the Great Lakes area were doing quill work long before the first European contact in 1615. With the encouragement of French traders, a number of Great Lakes Indians -- principally Odawa and Chippewa -- began to place quill decorations on birch bark boxes of various designs.  Today over 300 years later, quill work on birch bark boxes is a well known and highly prized Native American art form.

 

Making quill boxes is a time consuming and meticulous process. Quills are collected in January and February when their natural color is the strongest and they are not oily. Birch bark is cut from trees in May and June, when sap is abundant and removal of the first layer of bark will not harm the tree. Sweet grass is carefully cut in order to preserve the roots. This is done in June and July before insects have devoured the long broad leaves. It is rinsed in hot water and hung to dry.

 

One porcupine can provide thirty to forty thousand quills, ranging in length up to five inches. Quills can be plucked from porcupines killed for food or obtained from slow-moving live animals that are trapped by skillfully thrown blankets. In Winter the quills are often obtained from road kills. Quills are washed and sorted according to length and thickness.

 

Quilling is not difficult, but demands strong hands,care and patience. When softened in the mouth or soaked in water, quills become very pliable and can be flattened, bent, and twisted. A pliable quill is inserted into a hole pierced along a predetermined design line. A second hole is pierced within the design and the other end of the quill is inserted and pulled tight with tweezers.  The quill is held snugly because the bark tends to expand slightly after the quill is inserted, shrinking the size of the hole. This process is repeated until the design is complete.

 

Only a few artist have continued this wonderful tradition. Yvonne Walker Keshick is a contemporary master of this centuries old North American Indian craft. The making of birch bark boxes decorated with porcupine quills has been Yvonne Walker Keskick's life work.   Because she was born in October, her tribal name is "Falling Leaf".   Her quill work is distinguished by its designs, the uniform size of the quills, the accuracy of the fit of the box, uniform sewing, and the quality of the bark with no warping or scars. Yvonne continues her work in earnest in the area of Petoskey, Michigan, where she has been making quill boxes for over 20 years. Her sons Arnold and Chris Walker and Jacob Keshick as well as her daughter are continuing the rich tradition. Arnold Walker is currently producing wonderful boxes with natural quills some of which are shown below. Outstanding work is being done by Tom and Sally Paquin. They have also made superior quality quill boxes for over twenty years using primarily died quills. The box pictured above is an example of their quill work of the highest level.  A good general book is “The Technique of Porcupine Quill Decoration Among the North American Indians” by William C. Orchard. Examples of work by many artist can be seen at Three Pines Studio and Gallery in Cross Village Michigan. All pictured below have been sold but are shown as examples of the nature and quality of the work by the top artists represented here.Almost all of the quill boxes below were made by Tom and Sally Paquin, some are 6 inches in diameter and have sold for $1300 each. They can range in size from 3" to 7" and can be round or oval.We can have a specific box made for you! Those pictured below should give you an idea of the diversity of designs.

Quill Box Photo Gallery

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Last modified JANUARY 29, 2014