Slog News & Arts

Line Out

Music & Nightlife

« Policing Tehran | Reading Tonight »

Monday, October 27, 2008

Currently Hanging

posted by on October 27 at 10:08 AM

Bark shredder (late 19th century, Quinault), bone, 8 1/2 by 6 inches

Spindle whorl (before 1912, Cowichan), wood, 8 3/8 by 8 by 7 inches

At Seattle Art Museum. (Exhibition site here.)

It’s fair to say that the big new show of Coast Salish art at Seattle Art Museum doesn’t have to do much to be a success: Its existence alone is an improvement. Although the Coast Salish are the native people on the land that extends south almost to the Columbia River and north all the way to the top of the Strait of Georgia—encompassing the cities of Olympia, Tacoma, Seattle, and Bellingham, and Victoria, Vancouver, and Nanaimo, B.C.—no one in any of those cities has ever organized a major show of Coast Salish art before.

The show was complex to put together, but the material is simplistically presented, unfortunately. I still recommend going (and admission is suggested rather than required, thanks to a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities). My full review comes out Wednesday, but here’s a bit of it.

“Our people have preferred to be quiet,” Upper Skagit elder Vi Hilbert says, and she could be referring to the contrast between the Salish and the dominant force in Northwest native art—the force that for years was treated as the only Northwest native art: what is called “formline” design, made by tribes situated hundreds of miles north of here. The Haida and Tlingit are the best known of these, and their art has completely overshadowed Salish art.

Salish art is simpler, subtler, and looser than the northern style. It is not always symmetrical. It has a muted palette. Dazzlingly colored warrior masks and heraldic totem poles standing outside of homes for anthropologists to gawk at: these are not Salish objects. Salish house posts are installed indoors and bear private meanings. While northerners used objects for decoration, the Salish did not. Weavings, baskets, spindle whorls (for spinning wool), rattles, and drums are adorned with story iconography but made for ceremonial use. Some ceremonies are too secret for their objects to go on display. The religious practices of Salish people are especially introverted; certain names and experiences are thought to lose power if they are widely shared. All of this means that the Salish—in addition to being ignored or swept aside for 150 years—don’t spend a lot of time clamoring for the attention of outsiders, either.

This is the original famous Northwest reserve.

RSS icon Comments


The Spindle Whorl just looks like an ancient glory hole.

Posted by Sil | October 27, 2008 10:14 AM

I always kinda wondered why Haida art was pretty much the only native style we saw around here.

Posted by Greg | October 27, 2008 10:43 AM

i was in Taholah yesterday and i didn't see too much art. they could use more art & less clearcuts.

go chitwins!

Posted by max solomon | October 27, 2008 11:17 AM

So I am wondering if some of the collection comes from the Museum of Anthropology in Vancouver, BC. I used to work as a tour guide there and I know that the museum is closed until Spring but I wasn't able to find any information about them loaning out their items. I do know that they have one of the largest collections of Coast Salish art- new and old- in on display and in their visible storage.

Posted by miss nomer | October 27, 2008 2:44 PM

There is a sweet companion book for the exhibition too. Should be available soon, buy one!

Posted by Jeremy from Seattle | October 27, 2008 2:47 PM

@4: Yes, some of what's in the show is on loan from the BC museum. There's stuff from all over (BC, East Coast, England).

Posted by Jen Graves | October 27, 2008 3:25 PM

@1 - Totally reminded me of a Sheela na-Gig.


Posted by merry | October 27, 2008 4:39 PM

Comments Closed

Comments are closed on this post.