Northwest Coast Woodwork
The Northwest Coast of North America is a narrow strip of land that is bounded on the east by mountains and on the west by the Pacific Ocean. It runs from the southeastern part of Alaska for approximately 2000 miles to the northernmost tip of California, and is characterized by a temperate climate, heavy annual rainfall, and a rain forest of evergreen trees. This is a rugged coast of fjords and islands, where the mountains are steep and often come right to the sea. There are numerous rivers that run east-west through the mountains to the ocean. The dense coastal forests of red and yellow cedars, spruces, fir, and yew support abundant animal life: bear, mountain lion, wolf, fox, deer, elk, mountain goat, and many smaller species of mammals, including several furbearing types - beaver, mink, and otter. Riverine and ocean fish abound, as do marine mammals such as sea lions, seals, and whales. Tidal flats provide habitat for shellfish, and migratory waterfowl are plentiful.
This land of abundant resources provided a rich sustenance for the native peoples of the Northwest Coast. The population is estimated to have been more than 250,000 in pre-European times. There was great linguistic diversity in the area, with at least eight language families represented by more than twice that many languages. These people lived off the bounties of nature - hunting, fishing, and collecting the many resources available. They lived in permanent villages of large wooden houses and developed a complex and sophisticated socio-political and ritual life. (Click here to learn more.) They are famous for their dance dramas and beautiful artwork, particularly that done in wood, basketry, and textiles.
The Northwest Coast cultures are well-known for their magnificent woodworking traditions. From the large cedars and other trees of the area they built their huge houses, constructed great sea-going canoes, sculpted tall totem poles, and carved many beautiful boxes, bowls, dance masks, and other objects. Here we exhibit a sampling of Northwest Coast art in the SRJC Museum collection.