Yvonne Walker Keshick
2014 NEA National Heritage Fellow
The NEA National Heritage Fellowships
recognize the recipients' artistic excellence and support their
continuing contributions to our nation's traditional arts heritage.
information on Sept 17th award ceremony and Sept 19th concert
basket maker and porcupine quillwork, Yvonne Walker Keshick creates
birchbark masterpieces realistically decorated with quills that
depict natural images as well as cultural symbols of the Odawa tribe.
Also a devoted teacher, she has developed resources and provided
instruction to ensure this art form is passed down to others as
it was to her.
Keshick was born in 1946 and is descended from a long line of
Odawa/Ojibwa quillworkers. Keshick's aunt, Anna Odei'min, was reputedly
on the of the finest quillworkers at the turn of the 19th century.
In 1969, Keshick began learning the art from teacher and artist,
Susan Kiogima Shagonaby.
Keshick quickly mastered both the traditional cultural designs
as well as the basic wildlife and floral designs for which her family
was known and which are passed down from generation to generation.
She then excelled in creating even more complex and realistic designs
of flora and fauna as well as depictions of cultural symbols and
stories. Her work is known for its technical craftsmanshipthe
quality of material used, the uniformity of sewing, and the accuracy
of the forms and fits of boxes and covers. Keshick avoids using
dyed quills in her work and instead creates shadowing affects using
the natural colors of the quills. Keshick is also knowledgeable
in the stories and traditions associated with quillwork and her
culture, which she shares with her community and family.
Keshick has said, "I believe it is truly our responsibility
to teach others all of the best things of our culture" and
in that vein has passed along the tradition to her sons and daughter.
She participated in Michigan Traditional Arts Apprenticeship Program
and has also written a manuscript that coves instructions on making
quillwork and information on the cultural meanings related to quillwork.
Keskick played an active role in the successful efforts of her
tribe's federal recognition in the 1980s. In 1992, Michigan State
University Museum honored her with a Michigan Heritage Award for
her "mastery of her tradition, attention to authenticity, and
commitment to sharing her cultural knowledge within her community."
Keshick's quillwork is included in numerous museum collections,
including the National Museum of the American Indian. She was a
featured participant in the 2006 Smithsonian Folklife Festival's
Carriers of Culture Native Weaving Traditions program.
Photos by Pearl Yee Wong, courtesy of Michigan
State University Museum