Northwest Coast Native Arts Online
Coastal Arts LogoHomeMask GalleriesPrint GalleriesPaintings GalleriesView our Carvings GalleryInuit GalleriesTotem Pole GalleriesMeet the ArtistsLearn more about Northwest Coast First Nations cultureNative Art LinksRecent NewsContact UsNative Art

IndianArt of the Northwest Coast

Back to Culture

Indian Art of the Northwest Coast has roots that go back as far as 6000 years. Examples of basketry found in the Tlingit territory of Alaska demonstrate design structure identical to baskets made in the 19th century. This reveals continuity in tradition over an extremely long period of time and proves this art form to be one of the few prehistoric primitive arts still thriving today. The relatively resent renaissance in Indian art of the Northwest Coast has re-instilled a pride and rejuvenation of traditions that define a unique peoples. The artists who work in the medium of Indian mask-making study the design principals related to their respective tribal affiliation before innovating their own styles.

Northwest Coast Native Art has received global recognition as one of the most powerful primitive arts alive today. The interest of collectors in Germany, the UK, Asia and the US has created a strong demand. The high monetary value of Indian Art enables the artists to make a good living at an occupation that, essentially, nourishes their culture. It allows the stories and myths that define their peoples to be passed on to future generations.

The Potlatch is a ceremony in which masks are used to interpret a series of songs, dances and rituals. It is in the context of the Potlatch ceremony that the Kwakwakawakw give meaning to the purpose of their existence in the universe. It is when they observe themselves in relation to the Sky World, the Undersea World, the Mortal World, and the Spirit World. The Potlatch is the defining instrument of the great order of things, past and present and yet to come. While the masks used exhibit powerful creative qualities of design, they also have practical applications in their social lives and are, in a sense tools. The masks, which are so synonymous with Northwest Coast Indian Art, are used to portray characters from Indian mythology. The dances they perform in the potlatch are intricately choreographed and require a great deal of training on the part of the participants. The theatrical element of the Potlatch ceremony is highly dramatic as songs and oration carry the legends and mythologies to the future generations.

Northwest Coast Native Art has its origins in everyday objects that were decorated with designs that made them more esthetically pleasing. During the long winter months they had time to devote to their ceremonial life and to its material manifestations, in painting, carving, and basket weaving. This is how Indian Art evolved. The red cedar, of the Northwest Coast rain forest, with its straight soft grain, made possible the building of their large permanent houses and the production of the great canoes, totem poles and house carvings, boxes and masks and other materials of domestic and social life. Interestingly enough, there is no word for art or artist in the Kwakwakawakw language. The Indian art designs incorporated into their wears had as much practical application as the functionality of the items. For instance, the Lightning Snake has the head of a wolf; an animal revered for it's hunting prowess. Knowing of its skill in striking whales, a whale hunter would paint a Lightning Snake on his canoe, and then paint over the image. Although it was unseen by the whale, the power of its presence on the canoe would aid the hunter to make a strike.

Back to Culture - Indian Art


home - masks - paintings - prints - carvings - totem poles
inuit - culture - links - recent news - contact us - help

Site last updated August 13, 2005 2:10 PM
Entire site content copyright 2000-2005, Coastal Arts Ltd.

Website Developed by Servoweb Technologies