PEI

Quilling project revives ancient art, and old-style business

A new project on P.E.I.'s Lennox Island First National is using traditional Mi'kmaq art to reconnect locals to an ancient traditions and promote tourism.

Quill art was a popular trade item from the early days of contact with Europeans

Mi'kmaq quill art starts with birch bark and brightly-dyed porcupine quills. (Stephanie Kelly/CBC)

A new project on P.E.I.'s Lennox Island First National is using traditional Mi'kmaq art to reconnect locals to an ancient traditions and promote tourism.

Three people are taking part in the 20-week project, funded by Skills PEI. They'll learn the history, design and technique of quill art - and how to get it to market. 

"What we're doing here is skills development," said project instructor, Cheryl Simon.

"They will know how to get the materials, how to design their pieces, but also the business skills that are required to sell them."

A prized item for 400 years

There are three people learning the traditions of quilling. (Stephanie Kelly/CBC)

Quill art is an ancient Mi'kmaq tradition that uses porcupine quills, weaved together on pieces of birch bark.

It became a popular trade item, beginning in the 1600s. 

"It's something that's a point of pride to know that you're doing something in the way that our ancestors have done, not only just the art form, but also the business side of things," said Simon. 

Simon said the goal of the project isn't just to pass on the skills, but also the history behind them.

"It's easy to put a quill into a piece of birch bark, but to understand the cultural knowledge that went into the designs...You really have to start at the beginning and learn what was going on with the people that were making this," she said.

'It's in the blood'

Some participants say the history is what drew them in in the first place. 

"I do other crafts, but this one is really hitting home with me," said Marlene Thomas.

"That's what's got me intrigued...it's in the blood, I think."

The artists create and frame the quill art. (Stephanie Kelly/CBC)

Organizers say the project is also a good way to create jobs and draw tourists to the area. 

"The two go hand in hand," said Mike Randall, executive director of the Lennox Island Development Corporation. 

"It just created a good opportunity to be able to promote this old art work, and at the same time, promote the artisans that are on Lennox Island right now."

The art pieces created through the project will be sold at the Lennox Island Mi'kmaq Culture Centre. There are also daily tours at the Fisherman's Pride studio.

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