Collections Corner: Quill boxes

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In this post we are taking you inside our archives to look at some of the most beautiful artifacts in our collections - small, handmade quill boxes. These unique Native American objects are still made today by the local Odawa people and have a rich cultural tradition that dates back centuries.

Quill boxes are constructed using birch bark, sweet grass and porcupine quills. Traditionally, the Odawa used birch bark for making boxes and baskets because its natural antibacterial properties made it perfect for storing food. Porcupine quills were harvested from animals hunted for food. Nowadays they are gathered from animals killed on the roadways. When moistened, the quills become highly pliable and easy to work with and can also be dyed. 

What began as a simple and effective means of storing food became an art form at the turn of the century as the Odawa created thousands of these quill-decorated boxes for the tourist industry. Today the art is still highly sought after and admired. The Historical Society has several quill-decorated objects in our collections including the items pictured below. You can view these and other objects in our online collections database on our website. You can also visit the National Endowment for the Humanities site to read about renowned local quill artist Yvonne Walker Keshick. 

Stay tuned! We will be installing a new exhibit about Native American art, culture and traditions at the Harbor Springs History Museum this summer. Do you have quill boxes or other Native American artwork you’d be interested in seeing in our upcoming exhibit? Please contact Mary Cummings at (231) 526-9771 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. with any inquires. 

Be sure to "like" us on Facebook and check out our website for updates on the exhibit and other events at HSAHS.

1997.011.74 2 Square Bark and Quill Box 3 web  1997.011.68 Floral Quill Box 2 WEB  1997.011.3 Quill Art Box 1 web

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Beth joined the Harbor Springs Area Historical Society's staff in November of 2013. Prior to this she received her undergraduate degree in Anthropology and Psychology from Albion College and obtained her Master's degree in Historical Administration from Eastern Illinois University.

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