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June 13, 2002
On display now through September 3, 2002
Seattle - A great mystery is being unraveled in the Northwest. A secret is emerging from old photographs and the depths of museum collections. What happened to the spectacular painted houses of the Northwest Coast? Most of these vibrant renderings of mythical stories and dream encounters survive today only in photos or as isolated, weathered planks in museums. But what did these traditional monumental paintings look like when they proudly adorned the houses of Northwest Coast chiefs?
Only recently have researchers been able to take a single aged wood plank, and from it re-create an entire house front. These awesome works of art, formerly thought to be lost, are once again being revealed!
"What is being revealed to us are... great masterpieces, not only of the Northwest Coast, but of the whole world." -Bill Reid
Revelations: Painted Houses of the Northwest Coast, on display through Sept. 3, 2002, features painted house fronts, photographs, and an engaging narrative, which together tell the story of these prodigious artworks, and the techniques being employed to rediscover their original splendor.
For the last 3,000 years, Native people along the coast have built large, communal houses, upon which artists have carved or painted symbolic designs. The first European explorers and traders in the late 1700s marveled at the monumental house fronts. The ensuing fur trade between Europeans and Native people greatly increased the wealth of chiefs, who competed to build houses displaying ever more fantastic imagery.
However, by the late 1800's, the cumulative effects of colonization-diseases, economic changes, and prohibitive laws-had decimated the tribes and suppressed their cultures. The construction of traditional houses with monumental paintings all but ceased. Many house fronts were disassembled, gathered by private collectors, sold to museums, or simply deteriorated. For many years it seemed that these works would exist only in memory and old photographs.
Since Canadian anti-potlatching laws were finally repealed in 1951, house front painting has been revitalized and Native leaders again are emblazoning images of their family crests on the fronts of traditional-style schools and cultural centers. Thanks to the new technologies highlighted in Revelations: Painted Houses of the Northwest Coast, contemporary artists are able to view the original masterpieces of their ancestors and to model new creations in the unique design style of early house fronts.
For more information about Revelations: Painted Houses of the Northwest Coast, please visit the Burke website at www.burkemuseum.org.
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