Northwest Coast

The Northwest Coast cultural region, which stretches along the Pacific Ocean from the Alaskan Panhandle to northern California, is one of the world’s richest natural environments. A Native population of more than 500,000 resides in this region of dense forests, majestic snowcapped mountains, and rocky ocean inlets punctuated with islands. While the cultures of this region have much in common, there is an astonishing diversity of dialects.

About the Headdress Frontlet

Coastal? Tsimshian, northern British Columbia, Headdress Frontlet, 1840–1870, maple wood, paint, abalone shell, Native copper repair on back, twine, string. Fenimore Art Museum, Cooperstown, NY. Photograph by John Bigelow Taylor.

Traditionally, Northwest Coast Native art has played an important role in ceremonies that reinforce the indigenous social and political order. The potlatch ceremony of elaborate feasting and gift-giving inspires a great deal of artistic activity, such as the Headdress Frontlet decorated with bright abalone shells that represent light radiating from the sun. This frontlet, which would have been mounted on a headdress and worn on the forehead, is one of the finest produced by the Tsimshian. The central figure may symbolize Naas Shaki Yei (Raven-at-the-Headwaters-of-the-Nass-River), who is the embodiment of the Creator and the owner of daylight. The bright abalone shells radiating around the central carved form mimic light shining from the sun.

Gallery Panorama

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