A Tradition of Quillwork

Bird design in natural brown and white colors on quillbox

Yvonne Walker Keshick, MSUM 2017.24.104

In honor of indigenous people’s month, the MSU Museum is proud to house the work of Michigan-based indigenous artists Yvonne Walker Keshick and her son Arnold Shawanoo Walker, among many others, within its cultural collections.

Born into an esteemed line of Odawa/Ojibwa traditional artists, Yvonne Walker Keshick was named a National Heritage Fellow by the National Endowment for the Arts in 2014 as a master of porcupine quillwork art. This traditional artform had been passed down through the women in her family for generations. Walker Keshick's piece “To Our Sisters” is a box made from birch bark and embellished with porcupine quills. Depicting the four stages of a woman’s life, the intricately woven basket calls on us to celebrate the intergenerational strength of traditional arts practices, and more broadly indigenous communities as they thrive today. In celebrating the transition from infancy to adulthood, this artwork also speaks to the resilience of indigenous communities throughout centuries of survival in the face of settler colonialism and genocide, and the fortitude of artistic practices in maintaining that resilience into the present and future.


To Our Sisters, Yvonne Walker Keschick, MSUM #7594.20

Walker Keshick played an active role in the federal recognition of her tribe in the 1980s and was presented with a Michigan Heritage Award by the Michigan Traditional Arts Program/Michigan State University Museum in 1992 for the “Mastery of her tradition, attention to authenticity, and commitment to sharing her cultural knowledge within her community.” As a participant in the Michigan Traditional Arts Apprenticeship Program, Walker Keshick continues to pass down the artisanal traditions of the Little Traverse Bay Band of Odawa. She remains committed to teaching her craft to young people, saying “I believe it is truly our responsibility to teach others all of the best things of our culture. Teaching! This is what we as elders have to do for our young people."

Walker Keshick's son,  Arnold Shawanoo Walker, is also an accomplished porcupine quill artist, passing down the traditional artform. The MSU Museum houses eleven of his porcupine quill boxes, also made with birch bark and sweetgrass. While Walker Keshick utilizes only naturally colored quills, Walker has worked with dye to introduce more intense color to some of his quill boxes. The intricacy and immense detail of his artistry is a direct reflection of the instruction from his mother, fortifying the preservation of traditional art forms.

Multiple works, Arnold Shawanoo Walker, MSUM

Walker Keshick and Arnold Walker show the power of teaching new generations traditional artforms and speak to the commitment of the preservation of indigenous art and indigenous communities into the future. The MSU Museum is proud to be at the forefront of the preservation of these traditional artforms and their thriving cultural communities, as well as supporting the Traditional Arts Apprentice Program and Michigan Heritage Awards.

Walker Keshick's “To Our Sisters” is on display at the Crooked Tree Arts Center in Petoskey, Michigan from September 20 – November 27, 2021, as part of “Kindred: Traditional Arts of the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians.”

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