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Birchbark Bitings

birchbark biting

The art of birchbark biting is one of the many unique art forms to come out of northwest Aboriginal --- particularly Woodland Cree --- culture. This form of art was usually practiced by women in the spring and summer, when scattered hunting and trapping families would gather to visit and exchange information. In some communities, contests were held among the women to see who could create the best designs.

Selecting the proper bark for use in birchbark biting was an art in itself. Often, birch trees were found in the spring, while the bark was thawing, in order to ensure that the bark would be pliant enough to retain the bitemarks made in it. The bark had to be free of knots, and possess about ten layers, so that layers could be removed for use in making the art. Usually half the layers in a selected piece of birchbark would be suitable to create designs on.

Once the proper bark was selected, the design was created by folding the bark and then using the eyeteeth to bite a design into the bark. The bark would be folded according to the nature of the intended design. The design was symmetrical, and could feature few details, or be highly intricate.

Present day birchbark biting seems to have evolved into an artwork of its own accord, though at one time, birchbark bitings functioned as design templates when one wanted to apply quill-work to a piece of fabric, in a fashion similar to needlepoint design. Once the quill-work was completed, the birchbark template was usually discarded. Since then, birchbark biting itself has emerged as a artwork in its own right, and birchbark biting pieces are one form of design sought from Native artists.

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