Skip to main content

Birch Bark Biting

Curated Submission
Beaver Lake, Saskatchewan
Circa 1970
DIMENSIONS in centimetres
9 x 7
Materials & techniques
Birch Bark; Bitten
Made by Angelique Merasty
Saskatchewan Western Development Museum WDM-1973-S-8213
Adopted as Saskatchewan’s official tree in 1988, the white birch is recognized by its white paper-like bark. For Saskatchewan artist Angelique Merasty, birch bark biting was both a cultural and a family tradition. Merasty belonged to the Peter Ballantyne band, a Woodland Cree First Nation in northeast Saskatchewan. She learned the art from her mother, Susan Ballantyne, and by watching competitions among the women near her home. A determined student, Merasty noted, “I would sit there for hours, and I ended up wasting a lot of birch bark, but what kept me going was that I knew this was special, this was what I wanted to do.”

Angelique’s husband, Bill, collected bark from the forest surrounding their island home on Amisk Lake (also known as Beaver Lake), Saskatchewan. When she first began practising the art, Merasty would unfold the bark several times to check the pattern while she was creating it, but as her skill and confidence grew, she could see the designs in her mind’s eye. At her peak, Merasty could create a small biting in as little as two or three minutes. When Merasty was later fitted with false teeth, there was concern that her birch bark biting days were over, but wearing dentures did not put an end to her bitings. Some even claimed that the denturist crafted Merasty’s eye teeth to suit her art.

Merasty was once believed to be among the last practising birch bark biters. She had no daughter to pass along the art to, as her mother had done. Yet in 1980 a chance encounter with a magazine sent a similarly named artist, Angelique Merasty Levac, on a journey to meet her namesake and learn her craft. Together with a number of other artists – including Sally Milne, Vivian Nipshank, and Rosella Carney – Merasty Levac is carrying on this traditional First Nations art. The elder Merasty passed away in 1996.
Submit a related artifact
Share to Facebook Share to Twitter Share to Pinterest Email More...

Main sponsors

  • Logo of the Imperial Oil Foundation with accompanying characteristic oval 'Esso' symbol.

Institutional partners