Global symbols of Northwest Coast art
Monumental sculptures­—epitomized by heraldic totem poles—are symbols of family heritage on the Northwest Coast . They have also become global symbols of Northwest Coast art and Native culture. On a smaller scale, masks, ceremonial headdresses, crest hats, feast dishes, bowls, boxes, and chests are carved to represent ancient inherited privileges owned by families. In the past, production of these carved pieces was largely motivated by the social system and major ceremonies, particularly the potlatch.

Potlatches stimulated art production
Potlatches memorialize deceased relatives or celebrate marriages, the raising of houses, and the naming of children. The host family renews ownership of inherited songs, dances, and rituals by performing them before invited guests. The guests receive gifts as payment for their services as witnesses. In the late 19 th century potlatching was made illegal in Canada , and the motivation for producing sculptural arts was suppressed until the anti-potlatch law was dropped in 1951. Some communities continued to potlatch during the early 20 th century, carving masks and other ceremonial regalia that were used in secret. During this period, small scale model totem poles were made for sale to tourists, and masks, rattles, and art displaying crests were also sold, becoming an important source of income.

A growing market for use and sale
Since the mid-20 th century, the market for both tourist art and ceremonial art used in potlatches—once again legal—has flourished, and hundreds of masks have been sold to outsiders. Some of the artworks were never intended for use, but many others have been used first (worn or “danced”) and then sold to collectors. Many artists are also now working in new media, such as glass and bronze, producing works for the commercial fine art market. This continues a tradition on the Northwest Coast that goes back to the late 18 th and early 19 th centuries, when Native artists first began to produce art made for sale to outsiders.

Sculpture List:

Marvin Oliver, Coast Salish (Quinault)/Isleta Pueblo
Glass, cast marble base, 1989
Commissioned by the Burke Museum
Cat. No. 1989-21/1

Model Pole
Jay Simeon, Haida
Argillite, 2002
Gift of Arthur B. Steinman
Cat. No. 2004-2/40

Wolf Feast Bowl
Randy Stiglitz, Coast Salish
Red cedar, paint, abalone, ca. 2000
Gift of Mr. Arthur B. Steinman
Cat. No. 2004-2/114

Eagle and Man No Difference
Steve Smith – Dla'kwagila, Kwakwaka'wakw
Maple, paint, 2002
Gift of Arthur B. Steinman
Cat. No. 2004-2/131

Wolf Hat
Art Thompson, Nuu-chah-nulth (Dit-i-daht)
Alder, paint, wolf fur, 1985
Gift of Arthur B. Steinman
Cat. No. 2004-2/159

Beaver Panel
Larry Rosso, Carrier
Red cedar, paint, 1987
Gift of Arthur B. Steinman
Cat. No. 2004-2/295

Grizzly Panel
Donald Yeomans, Haida
Red cedar, paint, 1999
Gift of Arthur B. Steinman
Cat. No. 2004-2/296

Towkit Puppet Headdress
Beau Dick and Eugene Isaac, Kwakwaka'wakw
Red cedar, cedar bark, fur, horsehair, leather, ca. 2000
Gift of Arthur B. Steinman
Cat. No. 2004-2/314

Holder of the Crest
Ken McNeil, Tsimshian (Nisga'a)/Tahltan/Tlingit
Red cedar, paint, 1999
Gift of Arthur B. Steinman
Cat. No. 2004-2/329

Thunderbird and Serpent Paddle
Shaun Peterson – Qwalsius, Coast Salish (Puyallup/Tulalip)
Yellow cedar, acrylic paint, 2006
Purchased with funds donated by Lawrence Christian
Cat. No. 2006-158/1

Salish Basket
Marvin Oliver, Coast Salish (Quinault)/Isleta Pueblo
Blown glass, 2006
Gift of Marvin Oliver
Cat. No. 2007-13/1

Susan Point, Coast Salish (Musqueam)
Cast Forton (gypsum plaster, plastics and fiberglass), 2006
Gift of Susan Point
Cat. No. 2006-171/1

Qwalsius - Shaun Peterson