A Visual Language

Part of the Totems to Turquoise exhibition.

The same motifs are found in many art forms, including blankets, ceramics, boxes and jewelry.

Brown Bear Dish
Unknown artist (Tlingit)

In the Northwest Coast, animal symbols---called crests---represent the history and ancestry of extended family groups. Such supernatural images have long been carved on wooden objects, from totem poles to boxes, bowls to house fronts. As silver and other newly available metals were first shaped into bracelets and pendants in the 1800s, these too displayed this rich iconography.

The particular symbols of the Southwest and Northwest Coast may be different, but in both regions, jewelry and other arts express deeply held beliefs and world views that are still very much a part of people's lives today. "It's important to realize that we still live in supernatural times," says Haida artist Jim Hart.