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Wisconsin Folks

Christine Okerlund

Decorated Birch Bark Baskets
Wittenberg, WI

Five baskets by Christine Oklerlund.

Have you ever seen a porcupine? Have you ever hunted in the woods? Have you ever seen "road kill?"

What do these things have to do with these beautiful baskets?

Christine Okerlund makes baskets from birch bark and decorates them with the quills of dead porcupines. Sometimes these are “road kill” porcupines that friends bring to her. Sometimes they are porcupines that hunters or woodsmen harvest. Other times, owners of homes find porcupines that are a nuisance. People near Wittenberg know that Christine makes special use of quills from dead porcupines.

Christine’s Basket Background 

Upper Midwest mapChristine’s great-grandparents are from Canada. Her parents are from Menomonee, Michigan. They met and married in the Milwaukee area, where Christine grew up. On her mother’s side, Christine’s family includes Ojibwes from Blind River near Manitoulin Island. Christine says she is “mostly French,” even though her name is Swedish. “Basically, I’m a Canuck.”

Flower-design birch bark basket by Christine Okerlund.As Christine grew up in Glendale (a town close to Milwaukee), she always was interested in her Canadian Ojibwe heritage. She took classes in Native American Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee so she could learn more. 

Christine also took a summer seminar in Rhinelander, Wisconsin. One of Christine’s instructors was Debbie Hatch. Debbie is an Ojibwe woman from Sault St. Marie whose forebears were from Manitoulin Island, like Christine’s mom’s family. Debbie taught her how to make porcupine quill baskets. Christine had done a lot of embroidery previously using Native motifs, so she learned quickly. “Quillwork is like embroidery,” Christine says. “Each quill is like one stitch.” Christine has devoted a lot of time to making baskets ever since.

Christine Okerlund in Green Bay. Photo by Anne Pryor.Christine is considered a master at her craft. Since 1988, she has received seven grants from the Wisconsin Arts Board to teach apprentices how to make birch bark baskets with quill designs. This photo shows Christine at a Green Bay workshop, teaching teachers her craft. Her baskets show years of highly developed artistic skill. 

Christine tells about how she makes her baskets and what they mean to her on the next two pages. Let’s go check it out!

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Schofield, Wisconsin (Marathon County)

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