Native Art of the Northwest Coast
1120 pages, 7 x 10
82 illustrations, 19 in colour
Release Date:01 Aug 2014

Native Art of the Northwest Coast

A History of Changing Ideas

UBC Press
  • A survey of the history of ideas and arguments that have shaped and disputed Northwest Coast Native art for more than 250 years.
  • Contributors include leading Indigenous and non-Indigenous historians, art historians, anthropologists, legal experts, artists, and holders of traditional Indigenous knowledge.
  • Richly illustrated with black-and-white figures and colour plates.
  • A significant resource for scholars and students in a variety of disciplines that will also resonate with a wide international readership.

The Northwest Coast of North America has long been recognized as one of the world’s canonical art zones. Since the mid-1700s, objects or “art” deriving from the Indigenous cultures of this area have been desired, displayed, and exchanged, classified and interpreted, stolen and confiscated, bought and sold, and displayed again in many parts of the world. “Northwest Coast Native art” has proved to be a powerful idea, assuming many guises over the centuries. But how has it been defined, and by whom and why?

This remarkable volume, many years in the making, records and scrutinizes definitions of Northwest Coast Native art and its boundaries. A work of critical historiography, it makes accessible for the first time in one place a broad selection of more than 250 years of writing on Northwest Coast “art.” Organized thematically, its excerpted texts are from both published and unpublished sources, some not previously available in English. They cover such complex topics as the clash between oral and written knowledge, transcultural entanglement, the influence of surrealist thinking, and the long history of the deployment of Northwest Coast Native art for nationalist purposes. The selections are preceded by thought-provoking introductions that give historical context to the diverse intellectual traditions that have influenced, stimulated, and opposed each other.

The central importance of this book is that it counters the tendency to turn Northwest Coast Native “art” into a one-dimensional spectacle that obscures and reduces the values of its component cultures and ignores the wider histories of thought that have contributed to its production. In unsettling the conventions that have shaped “the idea of Northwest Coast Native art,” this book takes a central place in the lively, often heated, and now global, debates about what constitutes Native art and who should decide.

A significant resource for scholars and students in a variety of disciplines that will also resonate with a wide international readership.


  • 2014, Winner - Melva J. Dwyer Award, Art Libraries Society of North America, Canada
  • 2015, Winner - Jeanne Clarke Award for Publication, Prince George Public Library
  • 2015, Winner - Canada Prize in the Humanities, Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences
The scale of this undertaking is unprecedented in the art historical and anthropological literature of the Northwest Coast and, more broadly, in regard to Indigenous cultural expressions in North America and beyond ... The depth of research contained within its covers and the commitment to multivocality, interdisciplinarity, and consultation, are groundbreaking. Megan A. Smetzer, Department of Art History, Capilano University, Revue d'art canadienne / Canadian Art Review (RACAR), August 2014
This volume balances solid, modem scholarship with an anthology of earlier writings. It will be indispensable for anyone with a scholarly interest in Native American art, and very important for anyone interested in the art and culture of indigenous communities. Summing Up: Essential. N. Anderson, emeritus, University of California, Riverside, CHOICE, March 2014
This work is an anthology, akin to improvisational jazz – embroidered around a core theme – but allowing every contributor remarkable latitude, creativity, and individuality. Subtitled ‘a history of changing ideas,’ it indeed questions many long-held assumptions in the field, and posits fresh notions on contemporaneity. It also works to suggest what might be appropriate, respectful, and well-informed means of appreciating, sharing, and studying ceremonial objects, and the Native Northwest cultures which imbued them with life…it is rare indeed that one encounters a book with the capacity to make the reader feel woefully uninformed, while simultaneously tempering with the unflinchingly illustrative personal narratives of Native elders, Haida manga, and thought-provoking arguments on cultural patrimony…to the degree that any criticism can be made of this volume, it would only be that its sheer size may deter the casual observer who sees it on a shelf. This would truly be a shame, since its wealth of information, multiplicity of perspectives, diversity of opinion, and review of historical literature would make it a terrific resource for any library. Michelle Paquette, Circulation, Periodicals, and Reserves Specialist, Frick Fine Arts Library, ARLIS/NA Reviews

Charlotte Townsend-Gault is a professor in the Department of Art History and a faculty associate in the Department of Anthropology at the University of British Columbia. Jennifer Kramer is an associate professor of anthropology and a curator, Pacific Northwest, at the Museum of Anthropology at the University of British Columbia. Ḳi-ḳe-in is a Nuuchaanulth historian, poet, and creator of many things, with forty years' experience as a speaker and ritualist.

Contributors: John Barker, Judith Berman, Martha Black, Kathryn Bunn-Marcuse, Alice Marie Campbell, Paul Chaat Smith, Alice Marie Campbell, Dana Claxton, Gloria Cranmer Webster, Leslie Dawn, Kristin L. Dowell, Karen Duffek, Aaron Glass, Bruce Granville Miller, Ronald W. Hawker, Ira Jacknis, Aldona Jonaitis, Jennifer Kramer, Ḳi-ḳe-in, Andrea Laforet, Andrew Martindale, Marie Mauzé, Michael Nicoll Yahgulanaas, Marianne Nicolson, Judith Ostrowitz, Daisy Sewid-Smith, Charlotte Townsend-Gault, Scott Watson, and Douglas S. White


Introduction: The Idea of Northwest Coast Native Art / Charlotte Townsend-Gault, Jennifer Kramer, and Ḳi-ḳe-in

1 Interpreting Cultural Symbols of the People from the Shore / Daisy Sewid-Smith

2 Hilth Hiitinkis -- From the Beach / Ḳi-ḳe-in

3 Haida Cosmic / Michael Nicoll Yahgulanaas

4 From Explorers to Ethnographers, 1770-1870 / Ira Jacknis

5 Thresholds of Meaning: Voice, Time, and Epistemology in the Archaeological Consideration of Northwest Coast Art / Andrew Martindale

6 Objects and Knowledge: Early Accounts from Ethnographers, and Their Written Records and Collecting Practices, ca. 1880-1930 / Andrea Laforet

7 “That Which Was Most Important”: Louis Shotridge on Crest Art and Clan History / Judith Berman

8 Anthropology of Art: Shifting Paradigms and Practices, 1870s-1950 / Bruce Granville Miller

9 Going by the Book: Missionary Perspectives / John Barker

10 The Dark Years / Gloria Cranmer Webster

11 Surrealists and the New York Avant-Garde, 1920-60 / Marie Mauzé

12 Northwest Coast Art and Canadian National Identity, 1900-50 / Leslie Dawn

13 Art/Craft in the Early Twentieth Century / Scott Watson

14 Welfare Politics, Late Salvage, and Indigenous (In)Visiblity, 1930-60 / Ronald W. Hawker

15Form First, Function Follows: The Use of Formal Analysis in Northwest Coast Art History / Kathryn Bunn-Marcuse

16 Democratization and Northwest Coast Art in the Modern Period: Native Emissaries, Non-Native Connoisseurship, and Consumption / Judith Ostrowitz

17 History and Critique of the “Renaissance” Discourse / Aaron Glass

18 Starting from the Beginning / Marianne Nicolson

19 Shifting Theory, Shifting Publics: The Anthropology of Northwest Coast Art in the Postwar Era / Alice Marie Campbell

20 Value Added: The Northwest Coast Art Market since 1965 / Karen Duffek

21 “Where Mere Words Failed”: Northwest Coast Art and Law / Douglas S. White

22 Art for Whose Sake? / Ḳi-ḳe-in

23 “Fighting with Property”: The Double-Edged Character of Ownership / Jennifer Kramer

24 Museums and Northwest Coast Art / Aldona Jonaitis

25 Collaborations: A Historical Perspective / Martha Black

26 Pushing Boundaries, Defying Categories: Aboriginal Media Production on the Northwest Coast / Kristin L. Dowell

27 Art Claims in the Age of Delgamuukw / Charlotte Townsend-Gault

28 Stop Listening to Our Ancestors / Paul Chaat Smith

29 NWC on the Up ... Load: Surfing for Northwest Coast Art / Dana Claxton

30 The Material and the Immaterial across Borders / Charlotte Townsend-Gault

Works Cited


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