learning new (old) techniques

Last year, I travelled with my family to a nishnaabemowin language camp on the Grand Traverse Odawa & Ojibway community located near Peshawbetown, Michigan. If you’ve ever traveled along the Trans-Canada Highway, you’ll remember how majestic this land truly is. If you travel across the border from Sault Ste Marie, Ontario into Michigan the beauty extends to the south. (Wait, who am I kidding? This earth is beautiful around the entire sphere. I haven’t really been anywhere on this earth that wasn’t beautiful. Maybe a bit damaged from human interests but the beauty is still there underneath it all.) Back to the land and the great lakes. Just beautiful, refreshing, and inspiring. Seeing this greatness it helped me to appreciate the strength, skill, and artistic genius of my anishnaabeg ancestors.

At the camp, I learned how to do some quillwork from masters Mina and Theodore Toulouse from Sagamok, Ontario. The workshop was 2 hours long and I made this small piece in the photo below. This wigwam/tipi is made from porcupine quills, birch bark, and sweetgrass. If you put your mind to something, you can learn a new technique. And pick up a few words in an indigenous language as well.


Below, I’m still developing this technique. I made this for a commission a couple months ago for a documentary about the first Indigenous surgeon, Dr. Nadine Caron. Made with Delica beads, quills, bark, and sweetgrass.


Another piece I created for the commission. Abstract quillwork with Delica beads, quills, and bark.


I enjoyed learning this technique and I’m still working away at it. I love how the quills bend and how each quill is unique. One thing you have to do is thoroughly clean the quills before working with them. I got some quills from a friend who got them from a friend who picked up a dead porcupine of the road and the quills weren’t cleaned very well. I was excited to get these quills so opened up the container and the air inside was filled with the dirt and mites from the porcupine. Yikes! My allergies flared up very quickly and I had a hard time breathing. I learned from this to have a bucket filled with warm water and dish soap ready to clean quills straightaway.

Below are a couple other beading projects I’ve done for gifts and fundraisers.


Star on canvas with quills and beads. Done while binging Walking Dead. Lol. Made for my Uncle Ron and Aunt Sheila. The link is to a newsletter that highlights their wedding aniversary, and life work with the Kateri Church in Kahnawake, Quebec.


Beaded badge. Donated for 60’s scoop fundraiser in Ottawa, Ontario.

Question: Have you discovered any art techniques that have been developed by your ancestors?