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Baskets, Baskets & More Baskets!

I’m just back from another road trip – this time through Manitoulin Island and up to Thunder Bay. The scenery was incredible (the views over Lakes Huron and Superior are breathtaking), but the trip was successful because I brought back porcupine quill baskets. Many…many…porcupine quill baskets!

Those who know me know that my passion is baskets. I was so excited to see a vibrant community of quillworkers on Manitoulin Island. Sadly, in many parts of Ontario, the artform is being lost. Every culture has the same issue. I’m sure that most people don’t have the same skills their grandparents did!

I was thrilled to see that there are so many styles. One family produces baskets in a contemporary style – vibrant colours and designs that I had never seen before. Others work in a more time-honoured manner – using undyed quills, for example. Each is a unique work of art and each and every one is beautiful!

Porcupine quillwork is an ancient artform – until the late 1800s it was typically used to decorate clothing, moccasins, medicine bags and other items. Beads eventually became easily available and began to replace quillwork as a form of decoration. At about the same time, tourists began to venture into previously remote areas around the Great Lakes. The demand for baskets decorated with quills was immediate, and the era of baskets as ‘Tourist Art’ began.

This has again evolved and now these baskets are coveted as pieces of art. I think you’ll agree that they are stunning and deserve to be seen as just ‘ART’, not tourist art.