A Gallery of Quillwork

It has been very long time since I featured images of some of my original quillwork designs on my web page.  Since my work took me away from the realm of the professional artist years ago and into the field of art conservation and preservation, I let the quillwork gallery fall by the wayside.  But a number of recent inquiries about porcupine quillwork inspired me to put it back up again.

And what proper place does a gallery of original art have on a conservator’s web page, one might ask?  Simply put, no one can truly understand the treatment and preservation of any kind of art object without a solid understanding of the art form itself; its history, techniques and materials.  And what better way to learn about a particular art than by actually doing it?

I had completely forgotten about some of the things that I had made.  This pair of moccasins was always a favorite.  The design was based on an original pair I saw at the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian when I was working there.  I thought the two-toned effect of the different colored leathers was quite remarkable. The leather used here is brain-tanned, smoked deer hide.  The vamp, cuffs, and tongues are undyed, and the rich dark brown color of the lower section comes from soaking the tanned leather in a solution of walnut hulls and iron filings.

The quill dyes are indigo blue and cochineal red.  Both of these natural dyes were in common use in historic times, and it is easy to see why: they were readily available through the European trade, they were easy to work with, and gave reliable, permanent color.  Red, white and blue quillwork (sometimes with a pale yellow,) is characteristic of Great Lakes, Metis and Upper Missouri artwork from the late 1700′s through the introduction of aniline dyes in the mid to late 1800′s.

DSCN0923

To see more images of these moccasins and other original quillwork, visit the quillwork gallery on the Ancient Artways Studio home page.

Digg This
Reddit This
Stumble Now!
Buzz This
Vote on DZone
Share on Facebook
Bookmark this on Delicious
Kick It on DotNetKicks.com
Shout it
Share on LinkedIn
Bookmark this on Technorati
Post on Twitter
Google Buzz (aka. Google Reader)
Posted in Dyes, Moccasins, Quillwork | Leave a comment

Beginnings…

Quillwork rosette by Nancy, Cree or Metis style, using all natural dyes and sinew thread

It’s been a remarkable journey….

Many, many years ago, I became a quillworker.  I had always been an artist of one sort of another.  Always fascinated by working with my hands, I had been exploring beadwork, sewing, tanning, knitting, dyeing, weaving and many other crafts since I was a child.  Somewhere along the way, someone introduced me to the art of sewing dyed porcupine quills into beautiful designs.  I had never seen it before, nor had I ever even heard about it.  But I was hooked.

For many years afterward I made a living doing custom quillwork for re-enactors and collectors.  I researched traditional designs, learned to dye with natural dyes, learned to tan my own leather (almost a requirement for producing good quillwork!), learned that there were literally hundreds of ancient techniques for sewing, wrapping, and weaving porcupine quills into beautiful and intricate designs.  It was quite an adventure.

As time went on, people started asking me to repair old original quillwork, beadwork, and leather items.  So I learned a little about restoring things.  Then I learned that there was an entire field of science/art dedicated specifically to the preservation of art and artifacts.  It was called Conservation.  I promptly applied myself to that discipline and all its idiosyncrasies, including knowing how to repair and preserve artwork and artifacts ethically, honorably, and with great respect for the original artists and materials.  I found myself quite at home, bridging the worlds of science and art.  My early training as a chemist, and all the years as an artist, served me in good stead.  So for many years now I’ve worked as a conservator, repairing and saving old things, doing preservation work for museums and collectors, designing museum exhibits and displays, and doing consulting work here and there along the way.  And in the process, I left the quillwork behind.

Almost.

Once you put something out on the internet, it’s out there for good.  Images of my original quillwork designs, and instructional material that I wrote over 20 years ago, still make their way around and around.  And the emails still come in, asking for instructions and advice on this or that quillwork technique. I’ve even been asked many times over the years if I would consider writing a book.

And so I start this blog to address that continuing interest in porcupine quillwork and the traditional Native American arts.  It is essentially a return to my roots as an artist, quillworker, and teacher with the added perspective of a professional objects conservator, scientist,  and historian.  Some of the topics I hope to include will be:  natural dyes, various quillwork techniques, ranging from the well-known to the obscure, hide tanning: with and without brains (pun quite firmly intended), discoveries made in the course of preservation work on old objects, and other interesting and relevant topics discovered as we go along.

Please feel free to email me or post a comment about what you are most interested in learning about and I’ll try to include it.

It should be a remarkable journey…

My original quilled moccasins. They've seen some miles. A little faded, but still going strong...

Digg This
Reddit This
Stumble Now!
Buzz This
Vote on DZone
Share on Facebook
Bookmark this on Delicious
Kick It on DotNetKicks.com
Shout it
Share on LinkedIn
Bookmark this on Technorati
Post on Twitter
Google Buzz (aka. Google Reader)
Posted in Conservation, Quillwork | Tagged , , , | 7 Comments