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Bringing history to life and learning about our community

The local Odawa (Ottawa) people have called the Harbor Springs area home for hundreds of years.
Before Europeans arrived in northern Michigan, the Odawa were already making quill boxes made of
birch bark containers decorated with porcupine quills.

According to local quill artist Yvonne Walker Keshick, these early quill boxes were used like we use
tupperware today, to store dried and smoked food. The boxes were made from birch bark, which helps
keep away pests and is naturally anti-microbial. The quill work designs on the boxes (often natural
images, such as strawberries or fish) would be used to indicate what was inside the box - just like the
labels on boxes in your pantry today!

By the turn of the century (1900s) the designs on the boxes became more elaborate as the purpose of the
boxes switched from storage to an art form. Odawa artists created thousands of quill boxes for the tourist
industry and today the art is still highly sought after and admired.


Turn to the next page for ideas!

What did you draw?

Why did you choose

that design?
These quill boxes below are part of the
Harbor Springs Area Historical Society’s
Collection, which contains thousands of
artifacts, photographs and documents.

Ask yourself ....

Have an adult help you talk about
and answer these questions.
• Do you think the symbols the artists
used to decorate their boxes are special
to them? Why do you think they choose
those designs?

• What symbols or images are special to

you and your family?

Other Resources
The National Endowment for the Arts profile on Yvonne Walker Keshick -

Learn more about the North American Porcupine here:

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