The native communities employed art to express their culture, norms, beliefs and practices that characterizes their wellbeing. It had various attributes that included both functional and aesthetic purposes. Art is an important aspect of a community’s culture because through it, the community is able to preserve fundamental cultural aspects as well as heritage. In modern times, art can be employed as a vital source of livelihood for populations. Different artistic forms are currently employed for perpetuation of native culture as well as enhancement of aesthetic attributes. Most importantly, it has significant intrinsic value as it is a good in itself. Native communities also used art as a form of identification because it was a direct portrayal of their value system. Different communities employed varied forms of art in their day to day activities. These ranged from paintings, masks and weaving to carvings, basketry and printmaking.
Cultural studies ascertain that they reflected not only the beliefs and values of the respective community but they were also influenced by the environment within which the community lived. Thus communities that lived in the forests and practiced hunting and gathering were more liable to have their artwork in form of the animals hunted and tools employed in hunting. In addition, most materials employed in creation of the artwork were derived from the immediate environment. Thus communities that lived in the forests employed wood, beads and ivory as these could be easily sourced from the forest. It is against this background that this paper provides an in-depth analysis of the art of the northwest coast. In order to enhance a harmonic consideration, it will begin by reviewing the historical background as the distinguishing feature of these.
The contact with the European in the 18th century led to the death of significant percentage of the North West population. As a result, art suffered a major blow and its production dropped drastically. However, this was revived in the nineteenth century when the natives started producing artistic works for sale. This was further boosted by the emergence of conservation areas such as museums that imported a wide range of this artwork from the populations. This trend continued in to the twentieth century and was perpetuated by the rise of talented individuals who made exceptional pieces of works. The most common were carvings, masks, totem poles and numerous other traditional objects.
Just like other regions, the art works found in this region are posited to have had distinctive features that were particular to this population. To begin with, they were mainly made of specific shapes that were called ovoid, S forms and U forms. Before the arrival of the Europeans in the region, art was solely depended on stone, wood and copper. However, the European introduced glass, precious stones, canvas and paper that were then employed in creation of artistic works after this period. The colors that were mostly used included yellow, black and red. Furthermore, in most instances, patterns reflected humans, eagles, legendary creatures, bears and ravens. Finally, the style took the form of painting sculptures or printing.
Historical studies indicate that the North west coast comprised of over seventy different tribes that spoke four different languages (Hackettt, 1998: 18; Barber, 2000: 8). Despite the inherent diversity, the artwork in the region assumed a distinctive style because of various reasons. In particular, this was attributed to the free trade that the populations enjoyed. It made it possible for them to share designs and come up with a distinctive and all inclusive style that incorporated all the aspects of individual tribes. The arts and crafts of these communities included basketry, wood carvings, weavings and printing.
Basket weaving is cited to have been one of the oldest crafts of this population (Hayes, 1997: 6). Archeological evidence ascertains that the oldest baskets are close to 8000 years of age. The styles vary between the populations as well as the materials employed in their construction. As indicated earlier, this was depended on the environment that the populations inhabited. Furthermore, they assume varied shapes, patterns as well as the techniques employed in their construction. This was greatly influenced by the cultural norms and values of the population as well as their level of creativity. For instance, populations that employed symbols in worship would in some cases incorporated the patterns of the respective symbols during weaving (Alexandra, 1995: 18). Likewise, those that practiced hunting definitely employed different patterns from those that practiced fishing as a form of economic livelihood.
The Northwest population employed swamp grass, cedar bark and spruce root in weaving of the baskets. However, it is indicated that the materials and styles changed as populations became more diversified (Jameson, 1992: 7). This was influenced by intermarriages and population movements that led to the introduction and subsequent infusion of these foreign aspects. Furthermore, the native populations copied certain designs and patterns from their neighbors in the east and south. Thus with time, they also used pounded ash to make the baskets stronger and therefore long lasting like the south eastern populations. Despite this, the native and traditional techniques remained predominant and can be differentiated from other designs with ease. The objects that were women include hats, capes and baskets. They were employed for various purposes that were both functional and aesthetic in nature. The hats were mainly won as traditional regalia by the men in the traditional setting. However, this has changed through time as westernization has made it possible for the women to use the same too. Currently, the design of the hats has also undergone significant changes and can now be designed for specific purposes.
Another important product of basketry was the woven mats that were employed for different purposes. In ancient times, this was used as beddings and as floor mats. In particular, their decorative nature made them very appealing as door mats. Further, they were woven and sold to foreigners and neighbors as a source of income. In cultural and religious festivals, mats provided comfortable sitting and kneeling surfaces for the population (Kristin, 1997: 13).
Sculpture and Carvings
Historical and archeological studies ascertain that the traditional sculptures and carvings in the Northwest Coast differed considerably between tribes. The most common sculptures included intricate bentwood boxes and totem poles. In addition, they carved different designs of masks that were employed as costumes in traditional dances (Barnes, 2000: 6). Figurines assumed the form of animals, supernatural features and humans and were in most instances carved from wood, molded from clay and or carved from soapstone and ivory.
This population also carved important household utensils and other important pieces of furniture. These included stools, chopping boards, spoons, plates and chairs. The furniture was either used for functional purposes of for aesthetic purposes. In some cases, these were designed in an exceptional manner especially when they were expected to be employed in cultural and religious functions as well as in relative rituals. The utensils were fundamentally used for functional purposes (Josslin, 2000: 15)
Initially, the populations used wood and timber from cedar trees to carve totems. They were mostly used in native British Columbia and Alaska as an emblem that reminded the family of its historical background. A finely caved totem was situated at the entrance of the family house and it was used to represent the successes of the family as well as the continuity of the clan. Further, it reminded the family of memorable religious and spiritual experiences. On a broader scale, it was a representation of the experiences, qualities and exploits that the clan had gone through previously (Ted, 2006: 4).
The design and shape of the totems was determined by the respective can. Usually, they were only used if the underlying meanings were known to the particular clan. The most commonly used shapes were those of different animals, birds and fish. These were placed on the totems to represent a hidden meaning. It is indicated that the choice of the animals, fish or bird by a certain clan was influenced by the benefits that the same believed had gotten from the particular creature (Gidmark, 2002: 12). Placing them on the totem was in most instances a way of thanksgiving to the respective creature for the benefits that are derived form the same. In some cases however, this also implied that the particular family had an encounter with the creature in the recent past.
At this juncture, it is worth acknowledging that the totems did not have any spiritual significant and they were not gods. They were a so not employed in any form of worship by the populations that used them (Walker & Stricker, 2005: 23). It should also be ascertained that regardless of the meanings that the clans accorded these symbols, they were not used in wadding off evil spirits or performing any relative magical functions. In modern contexts, these are still carved by both the native and contemporary populations. Indeed, it can not be disputed that his form of art is still held in high regard by the populations. It is certainly a significant traditional symbol that the northwest coast populations are still proud to be associated with.
Likewise, the masks that were employed as part of the traditional regalia as well as in dances were carved from the cedar wood. North west coast Indians had superb skills in this and made impressive masks that had both the outer and inner faces. The design of the mask was dependent on the function of the same as they were employed for different purposes (McNair, 1999: 13). For example, there were masks meant for story telling, some were used for dancing while some had a sacred connotation. In the contemporary times, these masks are widely used for aesthetic purposes and for dances. Further, they are used in cultural drama and in some instances sold as a form of economic livelihood. The false faces have a specific function and are solely employed in religious rituals. These are held in high regard and respected by the natives because of their functional value. As such, they are neither sold nor displayed for public viewing.
Weaving Rags, Quilts and Blankets
The Native populations in the northwest coast also practiced textile weaving that were in form of rugs and blankets. Usually, the designs were large and geometric in nature and were very impressive. Traditionally, these were woven using thread and spun cotton. However, with time, wool was made available and incorporated in the same. They employed the finger weaving technique and made various designs of blankets, clothing and tapestries. In addition, they used quilting, a tendency that they borrowed from the Europeans (Wagonfield, 2007: 5). The most common designs that were employed in this regard were the star and diamond shapes. Also, they used the buffalo hide in making high quality blankets, rugs and robes that were used by the population for various purposes. However, these were exterminated with t he introduction of wool and when the craft employed in weaving this died out.
Print and Print Making
Print making and printing was also a common artistic feature of the northwest coast populations. The most common method of printing in this regard was referred to as serigraphy in which the design of the print was undertaken through a mesh. Different materials were employed in this including metals, cotton, nylon as well as silk. To apply the design, populations employed stencils. The most commonly used material by these traditional populations was the silk screen.
These have undergone significant changes through tie and currently, they are seldom employed in the print Industry. The changes are attributed to technological advances that introduced advanced approaches of making prints. The development of chemical paints has also made it possible for the populations to have access to longer lasting paint as compared the traditional paints.
The native populations in the northwest coast employed art for various purposes. Artistic works were used in expression of the cultural norms, practices and beliefs that were unique to a specific population. They took different forms that ranged from painting, weaving, basketry and sculptures to carvings and printing. They were also used for aesthetic as well as spiritual purposes. Furthermore, these were unique to a respective community and their type and forms was also depended on the physical environment of the population. As it has come out from the review, art was and is still an important source of economic livelihood for various populations. The modern and native artworks are also still held in high regard by the population.
Of great reference is the fact that the pieces of art are an important aspect of cultural identification. This is because they are unique to a specific culture and they reflect the cultural norms, beliefs and values that are unique to a specific population. In general, it can be ascertained that art is an important cultural aspect that dates back to historic times. It is a good in itself because of its aesthetic qualities. The instrumental qualities can also not be underestimated. In this consideration therefore, it can be concluded that it is an intrinsic cultural aspect that should be preserved by all generations.
Alexandra, Frank. Native American Culture: Art Museum Exhibits. Seminole Tribune, 6th January, 1995, pp. 18.
Barber, Mike. The Proposed Maritime Heritage. Seattle Post Intelligencer, 17th January, 2001, p. 8.
Barnes, Steve. Indian Native Art. Albany Times Union, 3rd June, 2000, p. 6.
Gidmark, David. Analysis of Indian Art. Wind Speaker, 1st, May, 2002, pp. 11-4.
Hackett, Regina. Acclaimed Northwest Coast Native Art. Seattle Post-Intelligencer November, 19th, 1998, pp. 17-22.
Hayes, John R. Unveiling New Native Pieces of Art. Wind Speaker, 1st April, 1997, pp. 4-9
Jameson, Fred. Jefferson Award Nominees. Seattle Post Intelligencer, 19th March, 1998, pp. 4-9.
Josslin, Victoria. Transformation Masks. Seattle Post Intelligencer, 22nd January, 2000, pp. 13-7.
Kristin, Jackson. Exploring the North west Coast Art. Albany Times, Union, 27th April, 1997, pp. 12-19.
Lady, Rose. Native American Art. The Sunday Telegraph London, 3rd February, 2002, p. 3.
McNair, Peter. Trends and Traditions. Modern Northwest Coast Art. Northwest Art, 1st August, 1999, pp. 12-4
Sandra, Good. Aboriginal Business Guide. Wind Speaker Newspaper, 2001 pp. 18-22.
Ted, Davis. On Wild Side. Winnipeg Free Press, 9th September, 2006, pp. 2-6.
Wagonfield, Jody. Collections in the Burke Museum. Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 4th May, 2007, pp. 4-6
Walker, Richard. Culture Comes Alive. Indian Country Today (Lakota Times), 29th June, 2005, p. 7.
Walker, Richard & Stricker, Julie. Touch of Potlatech. Indian Country Today (Lakota Times), 21st September, 2005, pp. 22-6.
PLACE THIS ORDER OR A SIMILAR ORDER WITH GRADE VALLEY TODAY AND GET AN AMAZING DISCOUNT