Many people are familiar with examples of porcupine quill embroidery on birch boxes. Not so many are familiar with moosehair embroidery. Such examples came from north of New England in the Canadian territories, but a few examples have found their way south. Pieces have been identified as coming from the Great Lakes area from Objibway, Huron and Iroquois. Other Canadian tribes and tribes east of the Rocky Mountains worked in this medium.
Even though this particular example is badly in need of restoration, it is still a wonderful example of the delicate art. This particular box may have been used to store cigarettes or playing cards. Notice that the work is done on the brown, inner layer of birch rather than the white outer skin. Most birch work was done in this manner with the white being on the inside of a pail, canoe or box.
Some of the best moose hairs come from the mane of a moose where the hair is the longest. Fall and winter coats also provide a better quality of hair for this use. The white hairs under the neck allow the hairs to be dyed with natural dyes, but the few doing the work today have turned to such products as Ritz Dye reducing some of the work involved.
When looked at under a magnifying glass, these hairs actually look like tiny porcupine quills and are used in the same manner. But most of the designs created with the moose hair were delicately shaded flowers with fine winding vines and leaves. Pieces were generally small as the time to create these pieces was extensive. Today, such pieces are sold for very high prices because so few artisans have continued the work as moose become more scarce and people fall away from traditional work.
I was fortunate enough to be at the museum on Object Identification Day and this object was brought to me for a second opinion. Our director originally thought it was a quill work piece, but I had just done some research on moose hair embroider and recognized it immediately. The item was for sale, but because of its poor condition, the museum was not interested in purchasing it. I did. It is one of my most prized possessions.
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