Tag Archives: art

Signs of Lekwungen

Signs of Lekwungen "Walk in Two Worlds", near corner of Fort and Wharf Street in Victoria. Source: Flickr.com user ngawangchodron

The city of Victoria in collaboration with the Songhees and Esquimalt First Nations has fairly recently created a series of outdoor art installations which mark culturally-significant places.   As the City’s online brochure explains,

Established in 2008, the Signs of Lekwungen (pronounced Le-KWUNG-en) is an interpretive walkway along the Inner Harbour and surrounding areas that honours the art, history and culture of the Coast Salish people who have resided in the Victoria area for hundreds of years.

The Songhees and Esquimalt Nations are part of the Coast Salish family and are descendants of the Lekwungen family groups. Lekwungen is the original language of this land.

The Signs of Lekwungen consist of seven unique site markers – bronze castings of original cedar carvings, conceptualized and carved by Coast Salish artist, Butch Dick. The markers depict spindle whorls that were traditionally used by Coast Salish women to spin wool. The spindle whorl was considered the foundation of a Coast Salish family.

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Mystery Pipe

Mystery panel pipe. 12 inches long by 4 inches high.

I got contacted the other day by someone who was handling the estate of an elderly art collector.  The entire collection is African with one exception, the panel pipe shown above, and with more pictures below.  The person is looking for some basic information about these pipes and I suppose they will be charged with its disposition.  They contacted me thinking I might know something about them because I have posted about such pipes before, but of course I am just an archaeologist and  make posts about a lot of things of which I am largely ignorant.

Mystery panel pipe, detail.

I’ve given them contact information for someone who actually does know but in the meantime they said it would be ok to post these pictures here and see what the readers have to say.

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William Alexander’s Watercolours of Vancouver’s Voyage

Village of the Friendly Indians near Bute's Canal. Watercolour by William Alexander. Source: University of Illinois.

Yesterday I posted an engraved  view of  a village near the entrance to Bute Inlet, the view seen in 1792 during the voyage of Captain Vancouver.  Much as with the earlier posts on John Webber (1, 2, 3), there are multiple versions of these scenes.  The above shows a watercolour rendering made by William Alexander, a well known artist and draughtsman of the late 18th century.  It seems his series of works on the NW Coast was not done from life but was a commissioned finalization of the drawings of William Daniell, who was actually on Vancouver’s voyages, and perhaps other artists/oficer’s sketches.  At least that is the story I’ve been able to winkle out, starting from a position of sheer ignorance.  Nicely, though, Alexander’s watercolours from the Vancouver Voyage series, covering Alaska, the Northwest Coast and some views of California and Chile, are all available online through the Newberry Library at the University of Illinois.  These renderings were not familiar to me and perhaps not to you, either.

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Raven and the First …. Immigrant

Raven and the First People (Bill Reid), and Raven and the First Immigrant (Nicholas Galanin). Source: Nicholas Galanin, http://silverjackson.tumblr.com/

I’m a big fan of classic Northwest Coast art – it’s hard not to be.  But there is also a large and highly talented array of indigenous Northwest Coast artists who work in a variety of media and contemporary idioms.  One who recently caught my eye is Sitka Tlingit artist Nicholas Galanin.  You probably recognize the figure in the foreground above: Bill Reid’s iconic “Raven and the First People” (if not from class, then from your 20$ bill), which tells the story of Raven-Travelling in ancient times, finding a clamshell, hearing noises inside, and releasing people and animals  into a transforming world.

But wait, what’s that figure in the background, on the other side of the glass window, in the courtyard of the MOA?

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Edenshaw Compote

Argillite and ivory compote attributed to Haida master carver Charles Edenshaw. Height: 30 cm. Source: Liverpool Museum.

I only have a short post today since I am up to my neck in alligators, courtesy of my day job.  So, take a moment and check out the spectacular argillite compote (a pedestaled serving dish), attributed to Haida master carver Da.axiigang, Charles Edenshaw.  This particular dish is in the collection of the Liverpool Museum – an institution that  holds a collection donated by well-known coastal collector, casual ethnographer, and (apparently) former Liverpudlian, Dr. Charles Newcombe – many of the items in their Northwest Coast section must come from this source.  It is one of the more striking pieces of Argillite I have seen in that the form is so clearly derived from silverware: it is sublimely ridiculous, and I can’t help but feel that Edenshaw was in on the joke.  Yes, he would make what would sell, but a piece like this makes me wonder if he wasn’t slyly pulling the touristic leg, somewhat.

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Webber in Nootka Sound, 1778

Detail of a Nootka Sound watercolour by John Webber, 1778. Click to enlarge. Source: British Museum.

From the British Museum, a superb watercolour:

Nootka Sound, on the Pacific coast of Vancouver Island in Canada, was discovered by Captain Cook in his two ships, Resolution and Discovery in 1778. This drawing records this bay and some of its inhabitants. It is drawn in ink, pencil and wash and watercolours. The artist, John Webber (1751-93), accompanied Captain Cook on his third voyage of exploration in the South Seas and Pacific Ocean, which lasted for four years from 1776 to 1780. Webber was one of several artists employed to record the peoples, animals birds, fishes, plants and landscapes of the newly discovered Pacific Islands.

The written descriptions of the location are confirmed by the drawing. It is severe and inhospitable. High cliffs, rocks that reach right down into the sea, and the jagged shore line gave it a ‘melancholy appearance’. The terrible weather, which left the trees ‘mutilated by rough gales’ contrasted greatly with the tropical scenes ans palm trees enjoyed by the explorers in Tahiti.

Webber also drew the native people. Their clothing, basically the same for men as for women, consisted of a woven cloth, fastened at the shoulder or neck. According to Captain Cook, the cloth was the bark of the pine tree, beaten flat like a sort of rough felt. The head was covered with a conical hat made of matting. It is probable that Webber modified the drawing for the sake of decency and for public viewing. Cook described the men’s dress as generally bare in the ‘… Middles, nor are they ashamed to appear naked’.

It’s not clear what the kneeling man on the right is doing: is he using a mussel shell to dig?  Several harpoons complete with foreshafts seem to be visible.  It is a skillful and atmospheric rendering of Nuu-chah-nulth life shortly after first contact with Europeans.


Ucluelet, 1859

"Euclueliat village, Barclay Sound, Vancouver Island, N.W. Coast. H.M.S. Satellite" pen and ink and watercolor drawing 1859 Mar. Source: Yale. Click for original, click through for large size.

The above is a rendering of Ucluelet Inlet on the west coast of Vancouver Island, made in 1859.  You can clearly see the aboriginal village to the right. Artfully, the artist has caught a whale hunt at the exact moment of harpooning in the foreground.   I’ve zoomed in on the village below.

Detail of Ucluelet Inlet village.

Interestingly, the next picture in this folio from Yale University is labelled as a “Songhee” Village (below), yet rather than a Victoria area settlement, it fairly clearly shows what I think is another Ucluelet-area village, with the distinctive saddle-shaped hill to the east side of the inlet.  (The trees are different which makes me think it is a different one than above) Anyway, nothing earth-shaking but I had never seen these historic drawings before.

Songhee? Village. North West Coast Vancouver Island. Barclay Sound. H.M.S. Satellite." pen and ink and watercolor drawing 1859 Mar. Source: Yale. Click for original, then click through for large size.

dSpace: Adams on Gabriola Petroglyphs

Gabriola Petroglyph Design Elements. Source: Adams 2003.

One recent M.A. thesis I was really looking forward to reading is by Amanda Adams entitled Visions cast on stone : a stylistic analysis of the petroglyphs of Gabriola Island, B.C., from UBC Anthropology 2003, and available for free download here.

I was particularly interested to read the instructions she received on proper deportment when visiting the rock art:

Sites were visited in a manner and with a personal code of conduct adhering to Snuneymuxw wishes. Petroglyph sites were not visited at either dawn or dusk. A respectful demeanor was expected as was an “open heart and mind” (Bill Seward, Snuneymuxw elder, personal communication 2002). I was asked to give my full attention to the petroglyphs and their sacredness, not allowing daily distractions to interfere with my concentration on the ancient imagery. These expectations were met to the best of my ability. (18-19)

While many archaeologists are under the impression that there is little to no ethnographic information about petroglyphs, I have long felt that more likely such knowledge is private or highly privileged and not readily shareable.  In this self-serving sense, it was gratifying to see that Adams was able to record some such information:

Snuneymuxw Elder, Bill Seward, asserts that many petroglyphs were made by shamans, hunters and vision seekers (personal communication 2002) while Elder Ellen White maintains that the carvings were places where people both sought and gained power. She explained that “men would be stripped – even in cold weather and laid on top of each petroglyph – learning the spirit world, connecting to the area.” She also noted that the pitted ‘dots’ surrounding several of the carvings were “points of access”, places where one could dip their fingers into pools of “energy” and reservoirs of strength (Archaeology Forum group tour 2002).  (p 13)

Another welcome aspect of Adams’ thesis is her direct comparison to portable art.  Continue reading

Historic Sketchbook of Heywood W. Seton-Karr

Portrait of Kilipoodken by Heywood Seton-Karr, ca. 1890. Source: Alaska Digital Archives.

I’ve just come across a remarkable sketchbook in the Alaskan digital archives.  It covers the wide-ranging travels of one Heywood W. Seton-Karr, a British Army officer, big game hunter, amateur archaeologist, and talented artist (about whom, more below).  While I could probably fill 10 blog posts from this sketchbook, (and may do so!) a very interesting find is the portrait sketch above.  The caption reads,

Kilipoodken. Ind. [Cheif]  of La Fontaine Libooet. H.W.S-K. B.C.90.

This certainly refers to the Xaxli’p First Nation, also known as the Fountain First Nation, one of the Lillooet (not Libooet!) Tribal Council from the central Fraser River region of British Columbia.  Since googling for “Kilipoodken” only returns the Alaska Digital archives source, it seems to me possible that this mislabelled portrait is unknown to the Xaxli’p Nation, where it is more than likely some of this Chief’s descendants still live.   I hope they find this portrait.

Otherwise, there is much of interest in these sketchbooks. Continue reading

Cliff Painting by Marianne Nicolson

Marianne Nicolson is a member of the Dzawada’enuxw Tribe of the Kwakwaka’wakw First Nations.  She is an internationally-known contemporary artist, and a Ph.D. candidate in the Departments of Linguistics and Anthropology at the University of Victoria.  Her work is outstanding and profound and if you get a chance to see her studio pieces, then by all means do so.

One work you will not be seeing in a gallery anytime soon is her massive pictograph, Cliff Painting, near the head of Kingcome Inlet in her traditional territory (map).  The work is over 15 metres high by 10 metres wide, emblazoned on a prominent cliff as you round the final corner heading into Kingcome (video, scroll down).  It formed the focal point of the book by Judith Williams Two Wolves at the Dawn of Time, which is highly recommended.  Painted using scaffolds lowered from above the cliff, the work is a profound statement of power and energy.  The image is of a “copper“, a large shield-shaped symbol of chiefly power, family prestige and spiritual inheritance, among many more nuanced meanings.  Many pictographs on the coast are fading away, rinsed by sun and rain, vandalized even.  This massive pictograph takes a stance for all the past, present, and future powers of the Kwakwaka’wakw First Nation.

Cliff Painting in Progress. Source: The Medicine Project.