GLOSSARY OF TERMS
Traditionally, woman are the basket makers, with each cultural group producing a number of distinctive styles and motifs. Basketry techniques are also used to make hats, mats and bags. All these served a variety of practical or ceremonial purposes.
The cedar reigns supreme among the trees appreciated and utilized along the Northwest Coast. The wood, bark and roots were used to create everything from dwellings and totem poles to blankets, baskets and rope. Two species of cedar are indigenous: western red and yellow cedar.
The most important symbol of wealth, power, status and prestige is the Copper; a shield-shaped object made of beaten copper, sometimes engraved with symbols. A copper has a rectangular base segmented with a ridged "T" line; the non-segmented top portion of the shield flares beyond the width of this base. Chiefs were known to cut off a piece of their copper and give it to an honored guest or rival at a potlatch. A broken copper in this manner did not loose value: on the contrary, such a display increased a copper's worth.
Eagle is one of the most important beings in art and mythology of the Northwest Coast peoples. It is respected for its intelligence and power. In many regions, families that carry the Eagle crest are traditionally the most prominent. Eagle is identified by a powerful hook beak and eagle eyes portraying its extraordinary vision. Eagle down is still commonly used in many ceremonial occasions.
Feathers and down are often used in various ceremonial contexts and are symbolic of supernatural powers such as extraordinary vision or the ability to travel beyond earthly realms. Feathers may also symbolize communication, healing and hospitality.
Frog is a creature that lives in two worlds: water and land. This crab of the woods is revered for its adaptability, knowledge and power to traverse worlds. They inhabit diverse realms, both natural and supernatural. Frogs are primary spirit helpers of shamans. In art this great communicator is often shown sharing its tongue or touching tongues with another creature in an exchange of knowledge or power. Frog is identified by a large mouth, usually thick-lipped and has bent legs with webbed feet and a protruding tongue.
This symbol of love and beauty is identified by a long, narrow beak, prominent eyes, a small head and sometimes a small curly plume with the presence of flowers. Haida stories tell of high-ranking women arriving at feasts with live hummingbirds tied to their hair to announce their beauty, wealth and prestige.
Limited Edition Print
An edition or set of prints of a known number of impressions, usually fewer than 200, numbered and signed.
The traditional Northwest Coast house was a large rectangular building made with posts, beams and planks of red cedar. Housefronts were sometimes decorated with designs in relief carving or applied colour, and the family's stature might be stated with one or more totem poles.
Masks are widely used on the Northwest Coast and they exemplify sacred ceremony and ritual practices. A mask may be worn over the face, or over the entire head and even in some cases much of the body. The entity or entities represented by the mask confers knowledge, status and special powers to the human wearer. Historically, masks were carefully stored most of the year and only brought out for ceremonial occasions.
Octopus is a powerful sea spirit helper, often shown in complex compositions involving other creatures. Octopus is often symbolic of fluidity, creativity, flexibility , intuition and intelligence. Myths speak of these eight armed devil-fish monsters who occasionally devour canoes and sometimes entire villages. Octopus is identified by long tentacles that have round marks, often in double rows which represent suckers with a round, high head, large eyes and a short beak like mouth.
In stories, these majestic creatures are associated with strength, dignity, prosperity and longevity. They are also associated with copper and wealth. Orca Whales are thought to be reincarnations of great chiefs and are considered to be closely related to humans and the wolf. Some clans believe the Orca Whale is the water incarnation of the Wolf itself. Orca Whale may be identified by a large, long snub-nosed head, elongated nostrils, a toothy mouth, a blowhole, a prominent dorsal fin, two small pectoral fins, and a fluked tail.
Any work considered to be an authentic example of the works of an artist, rather than a reproduction. Original may also mean the first, preceding all others. In that sense, it may refer to a prototype, a model after which other works are made.
A work of art made with paint on any surface, often a tightly stretched canvas.
Panels are among contemporary media for Northwest Coast art. Carved and painted cedar planks and doors often depict a Northwest Coast story, animals or crests.
Raven is one of the most important beings in Northwest Coast art and mythology. Raven is known as the trickster who is intelligent, curious, lustful and impulsive. Raven has the power to transform both himself and other beings. He put the sun, moon and stars in the sky, fish in the sea, salmon in the rivers and food onto the land. Raven is distinguished by a fairly long, straight beak having a blunt or short turned-down tip and usually a tongue.
The act of reproducing; copying; creating a facsimile. The product of the act of reproducing, especially when it is significantly faithful in its resemblance to the form and elements of the original.
Salmon are honoured and celebrated by all coastal peoples; the fish serves as a powerful symbol of regeneration, self-sacrifice and perseverance.
The sea otter known to be intelligent, resourceful and agile, as well as the legendary transformer that journeyed about, transforming people into creatures of the animal world. Otter representations are identified by long, streamlined bodies with legs and feet tucked in with a long thick tail, small ears a small head. Traditionally, sea otter is shown on its back, often grasping a shell or sea urchin.
A stencil method of printmaking in which an image is imposed on a silk or other fine mesh, with blank areas coated with an impermeable substance, and ink is forced through the mesh onto the printing surface. Also called silkscreen and screen-printing.
Thunderbird is a giant, supernatural bird named for his habit of causing thunder and lightning. Beneath his wings he carries Lightning Snakes, which are his weapons. Thunder rolls from the flap of his wings, and lightning flashes when he blinks his great eyes or throws the lightning snakes. Thunderbird is intelligent and proud.
Totem poles, each carved from a single cedar trunk, are among the largest works created by Northwest Coast artists. Traditionally, free standing poles were placed before houses to proclaim the identity and status of the owners. Totem poles were carved and decorated with paint to display the owners' family history, ancestors and crests. Other types of carved poles include the house posts that hold up the beams of the house and mortuary poles that hold the remains of the deceased in a box at the top.
People respect the wolf for its strength, agility, intelligence and capacity for devotion. The wolf's vocal range and communicative powers are impressive. The Northwest Coast peoples traditionally believe in the potency and magic of speech and song. Wolf is sometimes an agent of transformation and is a popular figure in crest, story and art.