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Yvonne Walker Keshick
1992 awardee, Levering (Emmet County), porcupine quillworker
Yvonne Walker Keshick has the distinction of being one of the finest quillwork artists in North America. Born in 1946 in Charlevoix, one of five children of Levi and Josephine Walker, Keshick is the descendent of a long line of excellent quillworkers. Her grandmother, Mary Ann Kiogima, was reputedly one of the finest quillworkers of the early twentieth century. Yvonne began making porcupine quill boxes in 1968 with her aunt, Irene Walker, and teacher Susan Kiogima Shagonaby. By 1980, after spending nearly two years working alongside Susan and learning many of Susan's designs, Yvonne decided to do quillwork full time for the rest of her life.
Historically, porcupine quill designs were passed from one generation to the next. Families sometimes owned the rights to certain designs. The quillworkers in her family are known for creating quilled designs of wildlife with exquisite realism. Their animals seem to bristle with life; their floral designs reflect the intricate delicacy of the plants themselves. Yvonne learned many of Susan's designs and also draws upon nature for her own motifs. For instance, she is known to design boxes with fish at the start of trout season or lightning bolts after a severe rainstorm.
Especially knowledgeable in the stories and traditions associated with quillwork, Yvonne tells the story of how a bear learned the hard way to avoid porcupines: "When the bear reached out to touch the porcupine, it pulled its paw back quickly, finding it full of quills." (1) Yvonne now finds it appropriate to use quills to depict bears on her birch-bark boxes.
Yvonne generously shares her skills with her community and family, including her husband John, sons Arnold and Jacob, and daughter Odemin. To ensure the continuation of the tradition, she has written a manuscript that provides instructions on making quillwork, as well as information on the cultural meanings related to quillwork. Yvonne is honored as a dominant and respected force in preserving quillwork and other aspects of the cultural heritage of the Little Traverse Bay Band of Odawa.
(1) Keshick, Yvonne Waler. Gatherings: Great Lakes Native Basket and Box Makers. East Lansing, Michigan: Michigan State University Museum with Nokomis Learning Center, 1999:28.
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