Burke Museum Home

Frequently Asked Questions

Burke Ethnology collection and services

Q: How can I get my cool thing identified?

A: Museum staff are available to answer questions and provide information. Make an appointment with an Ethnology staff curator or collections manager and bring in your object. Or send photos of it by e-mail or post. Note: staff do not give appraisals.

Q: I want to borrow an object.
A: Requests for using objects in off-site museum exhibitions or displays are considered on a case-by-case basis; see the Loan Policy. The Ethnology Division cannot lend objects to individuals. Consider renting one of the Burke's many study kits—boxes of cultural artifacts with slides and information—available for public use. See a list of kit topics on the Education Division pages.

Q: What areas does the collection cover?
A: While the collection is particularly strong in Northwest Coast and Alaskan Arctic, it's also known for its other Native American collections, Southeast Asian textiles, and Pacific Region collections. Our brief statement, "About the collection" gives a good an overview.

Q: How do I get a photo?
A: Because the Burke Museum owns the copyright to images of its holdings, you'll need to request permission if you need a photo of an object in the collection. The Ethnology staff routinely handle requests for duplicate photography, scanned images, transparency rentals, new photography, and filming. Please consult see the following page concerning our professional services.

Q: How can I get a copy of the Holm/Wright videodisk? When is the DVD version coming out?
A: Analog videodisks of the Holm/Wright collection of 25,000 images of Northwest Coast art from 200 museums and private collections are still available for $75 plus tax and shipping; to purchase a copy, use the videodisk order form. There is no Holm/Wright DVD or CD, but we hope to add many of the Holm/Wright images to the Bill Holm Center Web site in the near future.

Q: What is the Bill Holm Center?
A: This globally accessible learning center was founded in 2003 to: 1) promote scholarly research on Northwest Coast Native art; 2) increase Native and public access to research resources; and 3) foster appreciation and understanding of Native art of the Pacific Northwest Coast. Visit the Bill Holm Center Web site to learn more about the center, research grants you can apply for, how you can support the center, and the art history expert for whom it was named.


Northwest Coast art and culture

Q: What do the totem poles outside the Burke represent?
A: There are not only totem poles outside the Burke Museum, but monuments as well. The term Totem Pole refers to the tall cedar poles with multiple figures carved by Native people of the northern Northwest Coast. Several different types of monumental poles include: house frontal poles placed against the house front, carved interior house posts that support roof beams, and free standing memorial poles to honor deceased chiefs.

Q: How can I learn more about Totem Poles?
A: Totem poles have become icons of the Pacific Northwest and of Northwest Coast Native people. See Adelaide deMenil's photos of these heraldic monuments of cedar and refer to our resources on totem poles for further study. Also, check out our Totem Pole Web feature, "The Enduring Power of Totem Poles."

Q: Who were Chief Seattle and Angeline?
A: Chief Seattle, after whom our city was named, was a renowned speaker and leader of his Suquamish/Duamish people in the 1800s. Princess Angeline was his daughter. For more information, see our Chief Seattle bibliography and links.

Q: How do I find out about canoes?
A: Northwest Coast people are known for their magnificent carved cedar canoes, once the major mode of transportation. Today many new canoes are being carved and paddled. See our Northwest Canoes bibliography and links for recommended reading.

Q: Tell me about native legends and stories.
A: Oral histories—sometimes called "myths" or "legends"—are important sources of information that have been passed down by word of mouth through countless generations of family and tribal groups. Here are resources on Northwest Coast oral traditions

Q: Native Languages. Or, what can I name my boat?
A: Some 24 different Northwest Coast languages were once spoken by the Native people of Washington. The local Lushootseed language has many words that are difficult for English-speakers to pronounce and may not be appropriate for naming your things. Today Native elders and linguists are working hard to preserve and teach their languages to younger generations. See our Northwest Coast languages resources page for dictionaries, books, and links.

Q: I have a basket—how can I learn about it?
A: Northwest Coast Native women made thousands of baskets for sale to tourists during the late 1800s and early 1900s, and basketry is still an important source of income for many weavers. People are more likely to have a basket in their family's collection than almost any other kind of object. You can learn a great deal from our fabulous online basketry exhibit. And, consult our bibliography on Northwest Native basketry.

Q: How can I study up on Native art of the Pacific Northwest Coast
A: To help you research objects such as masks, rattles, paddles, boxes, chests, etc., we've assembled this bibliography of selected Northwest Coast art resources.