Matues Revisited is a gathering of vibrant porcupine quillwork art created by The Quill Sisters: Melissa Peter Paul, Kay Sark, and Cheryl Simon. These artists have dedicated their time, passion, and creativity to reinvigorating the unique and dynamic tradition of Mi’kmaw quillwork embellishment on birchbark forms.
Each artist works to push their designs beyond traditional utilitarian structures to explore conceptual artistic expression including sculpture, wall pieces, and geometric studies. The artist’s hands are present in every step of each element, which requires gathering all materials from the earth and preparing them to be ready for creating designs of fine precision. Matues Revisited offers a space to visit with an artform that holds teachings in sustainability, environmental awareness, patience, and gratitude, evident in each step of quillwork creation.
Join the Mary E Black Gallery in partnership with the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia to learn about the Mi’kmaw quillwork pieces featured in the exhibition, “Matues Revisited”. Artists Cheryl Simon, Kay Sark, and Melissa Peter-Paul will speak about their processes and inspirations for the exhibition, with co-curator Aiden Gillis. Learn about what it means to the artists to continue the tradition of Mi’kmaw quillwork creation.
Zoom Details When: Mar 10, 2022 at 7:00 PM AST Register in advance for this event:
After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the meeting.
Cheryl Simon is a Mi’kmaq woman from Epekwitk (PEI), currently residing in Halifax, who works with porcupine quills, birchbark, spruce root and sweetgrass. She fell in love with Mi’kmaq quillwork as a little girl studying her mother’s collection of quill boxes. She started learning and studying the insertion technique and design upon moving back to Mi’kma’ki in 2007, and launched her business, Mi’kmaq Quill Art in 2011. Cheryl is committed to community education of the artform and has been teaching quillwork workshops for over ten years. She took on her first apprentice in 2015 and opened a short-term studio in Epekwitk in 2016 to begin a program of instruction for three more apprentices.
While Cheryl focuses on traditional quillwork and construction, she also developed a process for accurately depicting the petroglyphs (rock carvings) after visiting the petroglyph sites in Nova Scotia. Over the past two years, she decided to incorporate both traditional designs and the petroglyph technique into the same quillwork pieces. This blending of styles lets her showcase the importance quill size can make in enhancing the detail of the design. She was recently inspired by contemporary Mi’kmaq art to move beyond the quill box lids which influenced her early work to split the design into separate pieces, which adds a vibrancy to the designs.
Cheryl has taught her children to harvest and quill and is excited to begin the process of teaching them the intricacies of designing in the traditional style. She feels that quillwork requires strong connections and is proud that the community of quillers is expanding to include the younger generations.
Kayla Sark is a Mi’kmaq woman from Lennox Island, Epekwit. Kay was accepted as an apprentice to Mi’kmaq Quill Art in 2016 and learned the traditional harvesting practices and quilling techniques. She went on to share the art form with her children and then the broader community through workshops which she has been instructing for five years. She and her partner share in harvesting porcupine quills, sweet grass and birch bark, making her quill art a launching point for a shared cultural experience for her family. Once she learned the basic technique, Kay quickly developed a unique style drawing upon personal inspiration rather than being influenced by more traditional designs.
Kay enjoys the creative process and starts with inspired by different colour combinations. She begins each piece by quilling a foundational star, then incorporates the colour combinations to bring balance to the work and provide the unique detail. Kay gravitates to the eight-pointed star and feels a connection to that particular design as it has become such a symbolic representation of the Mi’kmaq nation.
Melissa is a Mi’kmaw woman from Abegweit First Nation, located on Epekwitk (PEI.) Growing up, Melissa was immersed in cultural teachings and was surrounded by a family of basket makers. She began her artistic expression at a young age, making regalia and beadwork, and is skilled in both traditional and contemporary styles. Melissa’s exposure to other Mi’kmaq artforms led her to quillwork, a traditional skill in which the ancestors of her maternal grandfather excelled.
Melissa was accepted into an apprenticeship with Mi’kmaq Quill Art in 2015. Her training was grounded in the traditional insertion technique and utilized the study of both cultural teachings and formal material culture resources available through historic publications and museums. Quillwork is created by inserting porcupine quills, either dyed or kept natural, into birchbark. The pieces are then edged with quills, sweetgrass or spruce root.
Over the course of her apprenticeship, Melissa learned techniques and protocols related to harvesting raw materials, as well as the complex geometry of traditional design work. Upon completion of her apprenticeship, Melissa has been integral in establishing a community of skilled quill workers. This community of quillers seeks to expand awareness of the artform and recently began working on collaborative projects.
Melissa launched her professional career as a Mi’kmaq quill artist with her first solo exhibit at Receiver Coffee presented by This Town is Small in Charlottetown in 2019. She is heavily influenced by 20th century Mi’kmaw quillwork and she is supported in her harvesting efforts by her family. Melissa is proud to be passing the art on to her two sons and the broader community.