Artistic Culture of the Northwest Coast Tribes

Artistic Culture of the Northwest Coast Tribes


Kent Antique Gallery offers collectors exceptional quality and authentic Native American art, artifacts, and antiques from various Native American regions. Here we particularly look at the Northwest Coast region, its tribes, history, and culture to understand and appreciate their art and objects.  

Northwest Coast Region and Land

Northwest Coast Native Americans inhabited a narrow belt of the North American Pacific coastland and offshore islands from the southern border of Alaska to northwestern California. This region stretched from Yakutat Bay, in the northeastern Gulf of Alaska, south to Cape Mendocino, and into present-day California. 

Native Americans of the Pacific Northwest Coast are the pre-Columbian inhabitants of the region, their descendants, and many ethnic groups who identify with those historical people.

Many regional nations developed, each with a distinct culture, history, and society. And while some shared common elements, others differed to create a varied display of unique pieces that we find today. These items share their story for such cultural importance in certain natural forms, like salmon and trees, but they also tell the story of war between tribes, slavery, and colonization. 

Tribes that occupied this region included Bella Coola, Haida, Kwakiutl, Makah, Nisqualli, Nootka, Quinault, Puyallup, Salish, Snohomish, Spokane, Shuswap, Swinomish, Tlingit, and Tsimshian.

The land and waters offered rich natural resources through cedar and salmon, and highly structured cultures were established from relatively dense populations. The Indigenous peoples of the Northwest Coast were considered wealthy compared to neighboring tribes because of the area’s supply of wood in the forested area, consisting of many other natural resources like spruce, Douglas fir, and coastal redwood. 

The environment inevitably supported abundant fauna and provided materials to build strong homes and plentiful subsistence for its people. Unlike other Native Americans who lived in teepees, Northwest Coast people built longhouses from wide cedar planks allowing for very large construction by the tribe, where the chief would decide who lived in each dwelling. 

Rich Natural Resources for Artisans to Flourish

The abundant supply of resources, especially wood, and the affluence of most Northwest tribes made this area the epicenter for woodwork and sculpture. With the rich natural ecosystem to support their lives, there was plenty of time for leisure activity and creativity. Some wood carving creations included masks, fishing instruments, bentwood boxes, frontlets, rattles, and Potlatch paraphernalia. 

Although many works of art served practical purposes, such as tools, weapons of war and hunting, transportation, cooking, clothing, and shelter, others were purely aesthetic with a strong use for spiritualism. For the Indigenous people, spiritualism, the supernatural and their environment were essential to their daily life. It was only natural for their worldly goods to be adorned with symbols, crests, and totems that represented some important figures from both the seen and unseen worlds. 

Northern tribes would often adorn their belongings with symbols representing a tribe as a collective. This would present a signal of differentiation among tribal groups and these symbols would be seen on a coat of arms or running up the flag of a country on a sailing ship when approaching a harbor. 

For all tribal communities, the creation of beautiful and practical objects served an integral purpose to depict stories, history, and wisdom from one generation to the next. Art tied Indigenous people to the land and the most distinctive artistic objects of the Northwest Coast are notably the totem pole and the Big (Plank) Houses of the Pacific Northwest Coast. Totem poles carry symbols representing constant reminders of their birthplaces, lineages, and nations.

Kent Antique Gallery provides zealous collectors with an extensive range of exhibit quality archaeological artifacts of the Northwest Coast tribes and various other Native American items.

Contact Kent Antique Gallery today for well-preserved, authentic Northwest Coast artifacts and more. 

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