Northwest Coast art

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Northwest Coast art is the term commonly applied to a style of art created primarily by artists from Tlingit, Haida, Tsimshian, Kwakwaka'wakw, Nuu-chah-nulth and other First Nations and Native American tribes of the Northwest Coast of North America, from pre-European-contact times up to the present.

Totem Poles, a type of Northwest Coast art

Distinguishing characteristics[edit]

Namgis (Native American). Thunderbird Transformation Mask, 19th century. The Thunderbird is believed to be an Ancestral Sky Being of the Namgis clan of the Kwakwaka’wakw, who say that when this bird ruffles its feathers, it causes thunder and when it blinks its eyes, lightning flashes. Brooklyn Museum

Northwest Coast art is distinguished by the use of formlines, and the use of characteristic shapes referred to as ovoids, U forms and S forms. Before European contact, the most common media were wood (often Western red cedar), stone, and copper; since European contact, paper, canvas, glass, and precious metals have also been used. If paint is used, the most common colours are red and black, but yellow is also often used, particularly among Kwakwaka'wakw artists.[1] Chilkat weaving applies formline designs to textiles. Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimshian have traditionally produced Chilkat woven regalia, from wool and yellow cedar bark, that is important for civic and ceremonial events, including potlatches.

The patterns depicted include natural forms such as bears, ravens, eagles, orcas, and humans; legendary creatures such as thunderbirds and sisiutls; and abstract forms made up of the characteristic Northwest Coast shapes. Totem poles are the most well-known artifacts produced using this style. Northwest Coast artists are also notable for producing characteristic "bent-corner" or "bentwood" boxes, masks, and canoes. Northwest Coast designs were also used to decorate traditional First Nations household items such as spoons, ladles, baskets, hats, and paddles; since European contact, the Northwest Coast art style has increasingly been used in gallery-oriented forms such as paintings, prints and sculptures.

History[edit]

After European contact, in the late 18th century, the peoples who produced Northwest Coast art suffered huge population losses due to diseases such as smallpox, and cultural losses due to assimilation into European-North American culture. The production of their art dropped drastically as well.

Toward the end of the 19th century, Northwest Coast artists began producing work for commercial sale, such as small argillite carvings. The end of the 19th century also saw large-scale export of totem poles, masks and other traditional art objects from the region to museums and private collectors around the world. Some of this export was accompanied by financial compensation to people who had a right to sell the art, and some was not.

In the early 20th century, very few First Nations artists in the Northwest Coast region were producing art. A tenuous link to older traditions remained in artists such as Charles Gladstone and Mungo Martin. The mid-20th century saw a revival of interest and production of Northwest Coast art, due to the influence of artists and critics such as Bill Reid, a grandson of Charles Gladstone. It also saw an increasing demand for the return of art objects that were illegally or immorally taken from First Nations communities. This demand continues to the present day. Today, there are numerous art schools teaching formal Northwest Coast art of various styles, and there is a growing market for new art in this style.[2]

Cultural appropriateness[edit]

Tommy Joseph, Tlingit woodcarver and sculptor from Sitka, Alaska[3]

Although neighbouring peoples such as the Salish nations also traditionally produced art which shares some of the characteristics of Northwest Coast art, these styles of art are not usually included in the term, since the patterns and artifacts produced are rather different. For example, Salish peoples traditionally created standing welcome figures not created by other Northwest Coast peoples, did not traditionally create totem poles, and did not traditionally use the form lines and shapes of other Northwest Coast peoples.[4] One corollary of this fact is that — contrary to popular belief — other than some of the peoples of the Olympic Peninsula, no Native American nations of Washington and Oregon states produced totem poles and other characteristic, formline, Northwest Coast-style art objects before European contact.[5]

Traditionally, within a given community, some patterns and motifs could be used only by certain families and lineages, or with the agreement of those families and lineages. Today in British Columbia it is generally acknowledged that only First Nations artists of the appropriate nation have the moral right to produce art of given types and using given motifs. Some non-Native artists, such as John Livingston, have been adopted into First Nations and have thus formally acquired the right to produce such art.[1] In some Nations such as the Haida adoptions are simply seen as gestures and claims to produce work are viewed as economic and cultural appropriation.

Notable artists[edit]

Notable Northwest Coast artists of the 19th century include Charles Edenshaw, who is widely acknowledged as a master whose art is in all the great collections around the world. Also Guujaaw, another notable carver and builder who is also Haida political leader. Other notable Northwest Coast artists of the 20th and 21st centuries include James Schoppert, Bill Reid, Mungo Martin, Ellen Neel, Robert Davidson, Beau Dick, Willie Seaweed, Roy Henry Vickers, Don Yeomans, Amos Wallace, Reginald Peterson,[6] Freda Diesing, and Tony Hunt. Notable academics and publishers of northwest Northwest Coast include Bill Holm, Bill Reid, Hilary Stewart and Dr George MacDonald. Emily Carr, though she did not formally adopt the techniques, commonly used native art as the motif of many of her early paintings.

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ a b Bill Holm, Northwest Coast Indian Art: An Analysis of Form. University of Washington Press, Seattle, 1965
  2. ^ Jonathan Meuli. Shadow House: Interpretations of Northwest Coast Art ISBN 90-5823-083-X
  3. ^ "Tommy Joseph." Alaska Native Artists. (retrieved 27 Dec 2009
  4. ^ Hilary Stewart. Looking at Totem Poles. Douglas & McIntyre, Vancouver/Toronto, 1993
  5. ^ Hilary Stewart,Looking at Indian Art of the Northwest Coast. Douglas & McIntyre, Vancouver/Toronto, 19795
  6. ^ Fair, Susan W. (2006). Alaska native art : tradition, innovation, continuity. Fairbanks, Alas.: Univ. of Alaska Press. ISBN 1-889963-79-8. 

References[edit]

  • Halpin, Marjorie M. Totem Poles: An Illustrated Guide. University of British Columbia Press, Vancouver, 1981.
  • Jonaitis, Aldona, Franz Boas. A Wealth of Thought: Franz Boas on Native American Art. ISBN 0-295-97325-0
  • Ostrowitz, Judith. Privileging the Past. University of Washington Press. ISBN 0-295-97814-7

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]