Northwest Coast Art

Northwest Coast art evolved over several thousand years and has become acclaimed throughout the world as a uniquely distinctive form of design and aesthetics. NWC art flourished in the rich and complex indigenous societies of the Northwest Coast of North America. Art adorned everything from monumental structures and ceremonial clothing to basic utilitarian equipment and objects.

We have historically said that we do not have a word for “art.” However, during a recent meeting of the Council of Traditional Scholars this pronouncement was proven wrong. The meetings are held in Tlingit and simultaneously translated into English. Ken Grant, Chair of the Council, during the course of his comments used the word, “at.nané.” It was an unfamiliar word and when asked what it meant in English, Chair Grant responded “art.” He explained that it referred to an ancient iconic event that was visually recorded and through a ceremonial process was transformed into a clan crest design.

The principles and rules governing Northwest Coast art—a tradition characterized by unique forms and designs and defined spatial relationships—create the distinctiveness of NWC art and allow for creative exploration and continued evolution of this art form. The uniqueness of NWC art, its importance to collectors and museums, and its significant role in the culture of the region’s Indigenous populations support the belief that NWC art should be considered a national treasure of the United States.

Sealaska Heritage Institute has embarked on a campaign to establish Juneau as the Northwest Coast art capital to promote Indigenous art throughout the world. SHI believes that this vision can be achieved with the collective action and support of federal, state, tribal, and local governments, businesses, and private organizations. Not only will the creation of the Northwest Coast art capital ensure the cultural survival of the Indigenous populations, it can provide untold social and economic benefits to the region for today, tomorrow, and future generations.