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Porcupine Quill Boxes

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One man’s collection of PORCUPINE QUILL BOXES is everyone’s treasure!

Much of what we do at Weekend at the Cottage is about sharing. Although this often involves sharing delicious food and drink ideas, we also like letting you know when we find interesting cottage-related stuff. In this case, it’s all about DECOR and COLLECTIBLES. Today’s must-share topic is PORCUPINE QUILL BOXES.

Before we begin, a heartfelt thanks to our friend Phillip Moody. Phillip generously granted us access to photograph his collection of quill boxes. He’s also offered us other little treats over the years, from a private COTTAGE TOUR to his SHAVED ZUCCHINI SALAD. We especially enjoyed his four ingredient MASHED SWEET POTATOES. Phillip is a big fan of life in cottage country.

Here’s what we learned about his stellar collection of PORCUPINE QUILL BOXES:

Porcupine Quill Boxes


These intricate, rather tiny storage vessels are all one-of-a-kind handcrafted pieces of Aboriginal art. Almost all of this private collection was crafted by artists from the Ojibwa nation on Manitoulin Island. This collection also includes woven baskets made from sweetgrass, the smallest of which is from British Columbia. 

We feel very privileged to have seen this collection in person. Each piece is so unique and the superior craftsmanship is evident. They truly are works of art.

A tiny box handmade using quills, bark and twine


The quill boxes are made made from porcupine quills, birch bark, pine needles and sweetgrass. The artists spend countless hours gathering these items before weaving and joining the various elements together in the form of baskets and boxes.

An important aspect of the gathering of the materials honours the Aboriginal belief on all living things. The bark is harvested only when the birch is healthy enough to “share”. Sweetgrass is plucked only when it grows in plenitude in the swampy areas. As for the porcupine, it is against Aboriginal belief for a life to be lost to waste. Thus, “road kill” is the only source for quills.

Birch bark and porcupine quill details


Some of the boxes feature less weaving and give the impression that the artist wanted to highlight the grain and spotting of the bark. These pieces boast simple design elements and often incorporate coloured twine or threading in the construction.

Symetrical patterns cover the outside


Other keepsake boxes seem much more elaborate. They’re covered with symmetrical shapes that run along the sides or top of the boxes. The quills are woven in criss cross and radiating patterns giving these boxes a uniform look.

Porcupine Quill Boxes


Perhaps the most striking and easily identifiable PORCUPINE QUILL BOXES are those where the entire surface is crafted to create a distinct image. The images are often of animals, but we also noticed flowers and leaves in and amongst the collection. A fox or turtle, beaver or bear, or even a maple leaf looks strikingly beautiful when captured in this fashion. Speaking from experience, it’s easy to sit and look at them for hours. They really are wondrous.

Details on a small woven basket


As mentioned, a few pieces in this collection include very tiny baskets woven by hand from sweetgrass. One in particular solicited the greatest response. We were captivated by a particularly tiny work complete with whale detailing. Imagine weaving a whale into a basket weave, when the basket itself is only as big as an egg! It’s quite charming! 

Woven baskets made from sweetgrass


We often speak about the joy of collecting things that strike our fancy. For some it’s McCOY POTTERY, VINTAGE WALL PLAQUES and TRANSFERWARE. But in this case, it’s as much about the art and craftsmanship as it is about the function of these unique boxes.

A collection of Aboriginal boxes

This collection came together piece by piece, as Phillip picked up a box every summer when he visited Manitoulin Island. This then helps us better understand how a very personal collection comes to be – something catches our eye or tickles our fancy and the next thing you know, we’re gathering more and more examples of that particular art or the craft. Collecting sure is fun as is sharing it with others.

A very small basket handmade using sweetgrass


We’d like to thank our friends at the WHETUNG OJIBWA CENTRE in Ontario who shared valuable information about this art form. They proudly offer a wide selection of one-of-a-kind handmade Aboriginal crafts and pieces of art. We encourage you to please visit this LINK for more information or to plan a visit.

PORCUPINE QUILL BOXES are unique and treasured keepsakes.


Products used

Just click on the below links to purchase items through Amazon.com and add them to your collection. Happy shopping!

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