small round box with flat top and bottom; quills overall with white fading into brown on sides; top decorated with red flower with white center and three brown leaves

Covered quillwork box, 20th century


Birchbark, quills, thread, plant fibers, pigment

Gift of Mary Giles 2019.5.13a,b

On View in Gallery 281

The Anishinaabe woman artist who created this intricately adorned and finely woven basket utilized locally harvested porcupine quills, birchbark, and sweetgrass. Artists often incorporated abstraction into their work, layering quills in complex patterns and forms that reveal both technical mastery and artistic ingenuity. For more than two hundred years, Anishinaabe women sold many of their birchbark containers and baskets to non-Native people to sustain their families during a time of major cultural disruption, including forced assimilation and removal onto governmental and religious controlled reservations. Quillboxes exemplify the power of Anishinaabe women to create a new and unique artform that expresses cultural and individual resiliency and creativity.

Artist Mary Giles, who gave her collection of quillwork boxes made by Anishinaabe women to Mia in 2019, was a basket maker herself. She recognized the importance of this artform and admired the meticulous craftsmanship required to create these works. She displayed nearly a hundred quillwork and birchbark boxes in her Stillwater, MN home, collected over decades through her travels across the Upper Midwest.

Image: No Known Copyright. Gift of Mary Giles

Unexpected Turns: Women Artists and the Making of American Basket Weaving Traditions

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