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Christine Okerlund

Decorated Birch Bark Baskets
Wittenberg, WI


Awl: A pointed tool for making holes.
Thin, easily peeling bark from a birch tree.
Canuck: A nickname for a person from Canada.
Ceremonial: Having to do with a ceremony or a special formal occasion.
Denomination: An organized religious group.
Embroidery: (sounds like, m-BROY-der-ee) Decoration made with stitches.
Forbears: Ancestors.
Geometric: Made with simple shapes like straight lines, circles or squares.
Heritage: Traditions passed down from earlier generations.
Lining: A material used to cover the inner surface of something.
Master: Very skilled practitioner, excellent artist.
Motif: (sounds like, moe-TEEF) design, theme, idea.
Ojibwes: Native Americans who live in southern Canada and northern U.S. around the Great Lakes. Their name for themselves is Anishinaabe.
Practical: Capable of being used.
Previously: Before.
Road kill: The body of a dead animal left on the road after it has been hit by a car.
Seminar: A small class. 
Thimble: A small cap worn on a finger to protect it from the needle while sewing.
Trillium: A spring blooming flower of the lily family which has three petals and leaves.
Upper Peninsula: The northern part of Michigan, between Lake Superior and Lake Michigan on Wisconsin’s northeast border.

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Journal Questions

QuestionWhat are the nicknames for the place where you’re from? Do the people from your town or region have any nicknames for themselves? Where did the nicknames originate? 

QuestionHave you ever seen a trillium? What other spring wildflowers grow near your home?

QuestionCan a beautiful object be useful too? If you think so, describe something that fits such a description. How is the object used and how it is beautiful?

QuestionHave you ever used natural materials from near your home to make something artistic or useful?

QuestionDescribe an object in your home that is both artistic and practical. 

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Resources For Teachers

FYIAs you explore this topic further, be aware of regional differences in style and technique. Plains tribes have a completely different process of quilling that involves slitting open the quill tube, flattening and plaiting it. Ojibwe technique uses the quill as a tubular whole, the same as Micmak and other Woodland tribes.

Web ResourceFind out more about Manitoulin Island, the largest fresh water island in the world.  

Web ResourcePorcupine Quillwork and Hair is an extensive site from “NativeTech: Native American Technology and Art.” It includes a section specifically on Porcupine Quill Decoration on Birch Bark

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Resources For Students

Web ResourceThere’s lots to know about birch bark baskets. Visit the Washington State University’s Museum of Anthropology to see the Baskets of Birch Bark exhibit.

Web ResourceChristine uses certain embroidery-like patterns when she sews quills onto birchbark. This page, Techniques and Patterns to Attach Quills to Birch Bark, describes seven of those patterns.

Web ResourceChristine gets most of the porcupine quills she uses from roadkill. But there are other ways to gather quills from a porcupine too. Plus, you use quills from different parts of the body for different purposes. Read about these and other points at Porcupine Quill Baskets.  

Web ResourceAnother traditional way of decorating birchbark is by biting patterns into it. Find out about this at Birch Bark Biting

Web ResourceHere is a Lakota story about porcupine quillwork and The End of the World.

Web ResourceWisconsin’s Prickly Rodent will tell you lots about porcupines in Wisconsin. So will The Porcupine, an article written especially for kids. 

Web ResourceRead Paper Birch to find out more about these great trees in Wisconsin.

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Text written by Rick March, edited by Jamie Yuenger and Anne Pryor.

Sources consulted include a tape recorded interview with Christine Okerlund by Carrie Kline (7/2/98), with the tape housed at the Wisconsin Arts Board.

Video footage from Wisconsin Folks, 1998, produced by Dave Erickson for Wisconsin Arts Board and Wisconsin Public Television.

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Wisconsin Folks

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Christine Okerlund



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