Northwest Coast Culture Area

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The Northwest Coast Culture Area stretches from the Gulf of Alaska to about the Oregon-California border. This strip of coast has a relatively mild climate, temperate rain forest of spruce, hemlock and fir, and rich marine life. Summers are cool and winters are wet and mild.

Rich flora provided diverse opportunities for gathering the foods collected in baskets. Five species of salmon and numerous other fresh and saltwater fishes contributed to the diet of the peoples of the Northwest Coast, as did sea mammals such as seals, sea lions, otters, porpoises and dolphins. Waterfowl were also taken for food, and the artists of some groups wove colorful feathers of various species of birds into their baskets.

Among the Haida of the Queen Charlotte Islands of British Columbia, homes were traditionally constructed of red cedar timbers and planks, often located on beaches with the front towards the water. In front was a totem pole with carved crests. Wood was a major medium for art work, meaning many objects such as canoes, homes, dishes, masks, and other objects were decorated. Basketry was a major art form amongst all Northwest Coast groups. In addition to the usual uses for carrying and storage, baskets were woven as hats. Many forms of Northwest Coast art have been transformed from functional use in traditional cultures to works of art for local, regional and international markets.

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NW Coast A

A. Makah Sewing Basket – Twinned; Bear Grass, Cattail, and Cedar Bark

NW Coast B

B. Northwest Coast Culture Women’s Cap – Twinned; Milkweed and Phragmites

NW Coast C

C. Interior Salish Curio Basket – Coiled; Spruce Root, Bear Grass, and Bitter Cherry Bark.

The Northwest Coast is rich in culture, artistry and natural resources. The summers signified a time of hard work to prepare for the winter. During the summer months the people dedicated their time to creating and harvesting. This was a significant time of production that would keep them comfortable while the seasons changed to more intense climates. The visual arts in these cultural groups focused on symmetry, neatness of finish as well as a stunning emphasis through carving and painting. By using the skin of sharks, they were able to sand and polish the wooden creations. 

Associated with their impeccable carving skills these groups also excelled in water transportation. The dugout canoe proves to be one of the most efficient canoes of its time. Using different proportions, the people were able to create large vessels that facilitated transportation of large cargo as well as people, and the smaller and shorter canoes for sea mammal hunting. 

Northwest Coast artists excelled in both wood carving and basket weaving. The inner bark of Red Cedar trees was stripped into long ribbon like threads that were woven into baskets and mats, often in a checkerboard pattern. Spruce Root twined basketry involved precision and advanced technical skill. Artists wove these so tightly that they became waterproof. This allowed the baskets to be used to create soups and porridge by using hot stones inside the vessel to heat and cook the ingredients. 

How do you think these peoples have kept these traditions alive so well?

NW Coast D

D. Tlingit Miniature Storage Basket – Twinned; Cedar Bark, Cedar or Spruce Roots, and Bear Grass

NW Coast E

E. Tsimshian/Bella Bella/Kwakuitl/Haida/Nootka Bowl – Twinned; Cedar Bark and Bear Grass

Great Basin F

F. Northwest Coast Culture Bowl – Twinned; Milkweed, Tule, and Phragmites