REGION 8: THE PACIFIC NORTHWEST:
Washington * Oregon * Idaho * Northern California * Alaska
Prior to contact with Europeans, Native American tribes on the Northwest coast evolved complex social and ceremonial groups, as well as permanent settlements. These groups hold various tangible and intangible rights and properties. Among them are the stories passed down from ancestors. Many of the Northwest coastal arts are visual expressions of these stories. After European contact, in the late 18th century, the people groups that produced Northwest Coast art suffered huge population losses due to diseases cultural losses due to the assimilation into European-North American culture. The production of their art dropped drastically as well.
Toward the end of the 19th century, northwest coastal artists began producing work for commercial sale. By the end of the 19th century, there was large-scale export of totem poles, masks and other traditional art objects from the region to museums and private collectors around the world. By the early 20th century, very few indigenous artists in the northwest coast region were producing art, although there were those who maintained a link to older traditions. The mid-20th century saw a revival of interest and production of northwest coast art, due to the influence of historians, artists and critics. A revival of traditional ceremonial ways also drove the increased production of traditional arts. This time also saw an increasing demand for the return of art objects that were illegally or immorally taken from Native American 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. The revival of ceremonial life, has also driven production of traditional clothing, painting and carving for use in ceremonies.
Although no significant architectural structures from the era before European settlement survive as anything more than archaeological sites, architecture in the Pacific Northwest includes designs that have reflected and influenced numerous architectural styles over time, and are unique to the Northwest.
Predominately, the Art that you will find in the Pacific Northwest is: Tribal or Northwest Coast art; or art that features and spotlights the natural beauty of the area.
1). Tribal or Northwest Coast art:
*Recognized by the use of formlines (U-formed, S-formed, and egg- shaped lines), and were initially designed by the Tlingit, Haida, Heiltsuk, Nuxalk, Tsimshian, Kwakwaka’wakw, Nuu–chah–nulth and other indigenous tribes.
*Art was 2-Dimensional, and the dominate colors were red, black and yellow. The patterns depicted include natural forms such as bears, ravens, eagles, orcas, and humans; legendary creatures such as thunderbirds and sisiutls (a double-headed serpent with fish features).
*Artifacts included totem poles, “bent-corner” or “bentwood” boxes, masks, and canoes, blankets, weaving and ceremonial items.
*Since European contact, the Northwest Coast art style has increasingly been used in gallery-oriented forms such as paintings, prints and sculptures, and you will find the work of many well-known artists available for purchase.
Many of these artists belong to the First Nations Development Institute who mission statement is: “to strengthen American Indian economies to support healthy Native communities. We invest in and create innovative institutions and models that strengthen asset control and support economic development for American Indian people and their communities.” With the support of individuals, foundations, corporate and tribal donors, First Nations Development Institute improves economic conditions for Native Americans through technical assistance & training, advocacy & policy, and direct financial grants.
2). Much of local current art in the Pacific Northwest focuses on and highlights the beauty of the region. Check out some galleries and shows to see the latest work!
*The dwellings of the Northwest Coast Indians were rectangular structures built of timber or planks and were usually quite large.
*Members of a corporate “house” typically lived together in one building -often called a longhouse.
*Some were made from huge cedar posts with side beams and ridgepoles that created a framework to which wall planks and roof planks could be attached. These could be taken down, loaded onto canoes, and transported from one site to another.
*The Pacific Northwest Indian peoples often organized themselves into corporate “houses” of a few dozen to 100 or more related people who held in common the rights to particular resources. Within a house group, each member had a social rank that was determined by their relation to a founding ancestor. These complicated societies also had three main divisions: elites, commoners, and slaves or war captives.
*By 1935 the architectural style in the region took on a look called Northwest Regional style. It was a regional variation of the International style . It is defined by the long rectangular shape, taking inspiration from the Native American longhouse. There is usually an extensive use of unpainted wood both inside and out, and long windows. Other features of the style include a low-pitched or flat roof with overhanging eaves, and a minimum of decoration. This style is sometimes referred to as Northwest Modern.
*Although you can find many styles in any given location, the Northwest Regional (and variations on the theme) is still common.
This read must be savored over many sits.