Native American


Artist: Unknown
Culture/People: Mi’kmaq
Place: Nova Scotia or Quebec
Media: Wood, quill, and rattan
Dims: 32.5 x 17.75 x 16 in. (82.5 x 45 x 40.6 cm).
Date: c. 1870
RTC No: NA1326
Gift of Ralph T. Coe, 2011


People can be confused by or misunderstand relationships created by the deliberate separation or combination of Native and non-Native artistic approaches. Unfortunately, some people lament the melding and adaptation of non-aboriginal tools, materials, and designs. But where would any art be without inspiration and an infusion of new materials and design ideas?

Sometime around 1840, a European fad for furniture inset with panels of quilled birch bark emerged. Mi’kmaq women began to add chair bottoms made of birch bark ornamented with dyed porcupine quills to their wares. Single quilled chair bottoms sold for $2-$5 to homeowners and merchants, as well as directly to the cabinetmakers who mounted them on hand-crafted chairs.

This chair back is adorned with geometric motifs unique to the Mi’kmaq nation. Panels such as this one, veritable mosaics of colored porcupine quills and birch bark, were sometimes sold to individuals or furniture makers for placement right in the frames of tables and chairs. A Mi’kmaq chair panel would attract the attention of visitors, thus stimulating conversation … and perhaps envy in wanting to own it.

This chair probably dates after 1860 because it incorporates aniline dyes. The exquisite edging on the inset panel is made of alternating stitches of undyed and black dyed spruce root. The chair style, too, dates post-1860, as evidenced by its solid and geometrical outlines, eschewing the rounded curves and ornateness of earlier furniture styles.

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