Carleton Curatorial Laboratory (CCL): Quill Boxes from Mnidoo Mnising

May 14 - August 26, 2018

Anishinaabe women have made and sold quill boxes since the early nineteenth century.

Constructed from birchbark and sweetgrass, these extraordinary boxes are elaborately decorated in complex designs worked in porcupine quills.

This exhibition presents sixteen quill boxes made by artists from Mnidoo Mnising (Manitoulin Island). The artists’ boxes bear witness to their mastery of laborious techniques—quills can be dyed, folded, looped, tufted or sewn flat, for example—and the diversity of their symbolic repertoire, which includes flora and fauna, landscapes, intricate stars and abstract patterns.

One of Maime Migwans’s boxes in the exhibition features a design by Carl Beam, her nephew, of the mishibizhiig, described by Alan Corbiere and Crystal Migwans as the underwater panthers who, in Anishinaabe cosmology, “govern the subsurface realm of lakes, rivers, swamps, caves, and earth.”

These quill boxes were made specifically for sale to visitors to Mnidoo Mnis. They were purchased by Victoria Henry while visiting M’Chigeeng First Nation in the 1980s and early 1990s—at the Ojibwe Cultural Foundation, at pow wows and at the renowned Lillian’s Crafts store.

At that time, Henry owned Ufundi Gallery in Ottawa, where she sold the work of such contemporary First Nations artists as Migwans, Bondi and Recollet, in addition to Carl Beam, Shelley Niro and Ron Noganosh.

Curated by

Andrew Braid, Mark Bujaki, Christopher Davidson, Hilary Dow, Maham Farooq, Christine Hodge, Alexia Kokozaki, Annika Mazzarella and Rebecca Semple

Artists in the exhibition

Delia Bebonang, Josephine Bondi, Linda Kimewon, Maime Migwans, Marina Recollet and Evelyn Toulouse


Curated by students enrolled in CURA 5001, a seminar in the Graduate Diploma in Curatorial Studies at Carleton University.