Northwest Coast art is the term commonly applied to a style of art created primarily by artists from Tlingit, Haida, Heiltsuk, Nuxalk, 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.
Two-dimensional 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. 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.
Mary Ebbets Hunt – Chilkat blanket
Although highly conventionalized decorative design occurs all along the coast, to the south and north of this center the representational motive becomes progressively stronger. Krickeberg characterizes this as a fresh naturalism to the south among the Kwakiutl, Nootka, and Salish and a certain relationship to Eskimo engraving and painting among the Tlingit to the north. The shift in emphasis is gradual – Bella Bella art, for example, has a close affinity to its Coast Tsimshian counterpart. Two-dimensional art of all these groups, however, is much more closely related than is their sculpture, especially among the northern tribes of Tlingit, Haida, Tsimshian, and Bella Bella.
Textile arts from the Northwest Coast include Chilkat weaving, Raven’s Tail Weavings, Button Blankets, and elaborate ceremonial regalia using a range of materials. Three dimension art was created from many materials, notably wood.
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