Native American

Tea Set

Artist:Josephine Assinewai (Assiniwie)
Culture/People: Odawa
Place: Wikwemikong, Manitoulin Island, Ontario
Media: Birchbark, porcupine quills, sweetgrass, dye, and thread
Dims: variable
Date: 1992
RTC No: NA0273
Gift of Ralph T. Coe, 2011


Josephine Assinewai (Assiniwie) (Odawa), Birchbark Tea Set, 1992. Birchbark, porcupine quills, sweetgrass, dye, thread, dims variable. NA0273

Birchbark is an important–and potent–material used widely across the Great Lakes region and beyond. Birchbark is incredibly versatile and continues to be used to craft canoes; containers for harvesting, storing and cooking food; as a paper-like surface for text and images; and even as a medicinal tea. It is also used in making less functional objects, perhaps, such as this incredible and playful tea set created by Josephine Assinewai (Odawa).

Assinewai made this tea set entirely out of birchbark and adorned it with dyed porcupine quills and sweetgrass. It is so skillfully crafted that it could absolutely hold tea. However, based on its scale (and style), it is likely that this set was not intended to be used for tea. The set could have been intended as a lighthearted work of art, or even as a play tea set. Many might describe this piece as a “tourist item,” which carries loaded connotations regarding its relative value. While Assinewai might have created this piece specifically to sell to tourists, it still holds within it the power of history, materials, resiliency, and technique. All of this shines through in every element of the tea set, from saucers out.

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