First Nation : Indigenous nations existed in Canada before the arrival of European explorers. These are the First Nations. The term can refer to a single band, or sometimes to a group of bands affiliated with a tribal council or cultural group.

First Nations person (or citizen) : although some apply this term to all aboriginal people of Canada (Indians, Inuit, Inuvialuit and Metis) many aboriginal people prefer to be recognized for the specific band or First Nation to which they belong. Others like to be identified according to tribal or cultural grouping.
First Nation : Indigenous nations existed in Canada before the arrival of European explorers. These are the First Nations. The term can refer to a single band, or sometimes to a group of bands affiliated with a tribal council or cultural group.

First Nations person (or citizen) : although some apply this term to all aboriginal people of Canada (Indians, Inuit, Inuvialuit and Metis) many aboriginal people prefer to be recognized for the specific band or First Nation to which they belong. Others like to be identified according to tribal or cultural grouping.

© 1997, Canadian Heritage Information Network. All Rights Reserved.

map

First Nations of British Columbia map

CHIN
UBC Museum of Anthropology

© 1997, Canadian Heritage Information Network. All Rights Reserved.


Skillfully painted by First Nations artists of coastal British Columbia, these faded images are undergoing a process of transformation through the use of special photographic techniques. Paintings on housefront and interior screens, storage chests and boxes, basketry hats and other objects are once again emerging from beneath their patina of age through the use of infrared and high-contrast photography.

Infrared research such as this allows the photographic repatriation of thousands of Northwest Coast First Nations paintings held in museums and private collections around the world. This process of photographic recovery provides new insights into the histories of First Nations painting, both for First Nations artists and their communities, and for scholars and the general public.

The result of this work is a growing inventory of photographed paintings - now over one thousand individual compositions - that were once inaccessible to contemporary First Nations artists and their communities, as well as to scholars and the public.

The individual images which make up this vast inventory can now be compared and analyzed to yield new insights into northwest Read More

Skillfully painted by First Nations artists of coastal British Columbia, these faded images are undergoing a process of transformation through the use of special photographic techniques. Paintings on housefront and interior screens, storage chests and boxes, basketry hats and other objects are once again emerging from beneath their patina of age through the use of infrared and high-contrast photography.

Infrared research such as this allows the photographic repatriation of thousands of Northwest Coast First Nations paintings held in museums and private collections around the world. This process of photographic recovery provides new insights into the histories of First Nations painting, both for First Nations artists and their communities, and for scholars and the general public.

The result of this work is a growing inventory of photographed paintings - now over one thousand individual compositions - that were once inaccessible to contemporary First Nations artists and their communities, as well as to scholars and the public.

The individual images which make up this vast inventory can now be compared and analyzed to yield new insights into northwest coast painters and paintings.

Lyle Wilson, contemporary Haisla artist says "The most revealing aspect of these paintings is the amount of play in which the artist could revel. In a society which placed the parameters of social convention above artistic individualism, the artist still found ways to express his own identity." (1992)


© 1997, Canadian Heritage Information Network. All Rights Reserved.

Transforming Images

Shot of gallery wall from Transforming Images, MOA, covered with photographs from this research

CHIN
UBC Museum of Anthropology

© 1997, Canadian Heritage Information Network. All Rights Reserved.


Even as the tradition of northern Northwest Coast art is revitalized, it remains difficult, and often impossible to identify the tribal origin of many 19th-century paintings.

For First Nations artists working on the Image Recovery Project, one question keeps recurring: which paintings come from my territory and people?
Even as the tradition of northern Northwest Coast art is revitalized, it remains difficult, and often impossible to identify the tribal origin of many 19th-century paintings.

For First Nations artists working on the Image Recovery Project, one question keeps recurring: which paintings come from my territory and people?

© 1997, Canadian Heritage Information Network. All Rights Reserved.

Very little is recorded about painters in Northwest Coast societies of the 18th and 19th centuries. As a result, only a few artists from the 19th-century artists can be identified by name today.

Most of these artists were high-ranking individuals who had the right to be initiated into secret societies or to play particular roles in ceremonies. They also had the specialized knowledge that was required to create certain kinds of dance paraphernalia, and to make visible the powers of their chiefly patrons.

This group of paintings may represent the work of one artist.

Based on infrared photographs of a 19th century bentwood chest, storage box, and dish, these panels recreate the original impact of the painted compositions.

They share some unique features that distinguish the other paintings - details that may go beyond a common tribal or village style to represent the personal choices an artist consistently made.

Very little is recorded about painters in Northwest Coast societies of the 18th and 19th centuries. As a result, only a few artists from the 19th-century artists can be identified by name today.

Most of these artists were high-ranking individuals who had the right to be initiated into secret societies or to play particular roles in ceremonies. They also had the specialized knowledge that was required to create certain kinds of dance paraphernalia, and to make visible the powers of their chiefly patrons.

This group of paintings may represent the work of one artist.

Based on infrared photographs of a 19th century bentwood chest, storage box, and dish, these panels recreate the original impact of the painted compositions.

They share some unique features that distinguish the other paintings - details that may go beyond a common tribal or village style to represent the personal choices an artist consistently made.


© 1997, Canadian Heritage Information Network. All Rights Reserved.

Regional Styles of Painting

Group of paintings by one unnamed Haisla artist.

CHIN
UBC Museum of Anthropology

© 1997, Canadian Heritage Information Network. All Rights Reserved.


Many artifacts in museum collections are poorly identified as to their tribal origin. An object collected from one group, for example, may have been created by an artist in another area and then acquired elsewhere through marriage, purchase, trade, as a ransom payment, or through the spoils of war. In the 19th century, and perhaps earlier, artists from different tribes were commissioned to carve poles and paint house screens. They would likely have created these works using their own particular styles.

Now, however, the large body of painted works assembled through the Image Recovery Project is allowing artists and researchers to compare hundred of images and look for similarities and differences among them.

Some paintings can be grouped together on the basis of an identifiable tribal or village style. Others show characteristics that may identify personal artistic variations within those styles.
Many artifacts in museum collections are poorly identified as to their tribal origin. An object collected from one group, for example, may have been created by an artist in another area and then acquired elsewhere through marriage, purchase, trade, as a ransom payment, or through the spoils of war. In the 19th century, and perhaps earlier, artists from different tribes were commissioned to carve poles and paint house screens. They would likely have created these works using their own particular styles.

Now, however, the large body of painted works assembled through the Image Recovery Project is allowing artists and researchers to compare hundred of images and look for similarities and differences among them.

Some paintings can be grouped together on the basis of an identifiable tribal or village style. Others show characteristics that may identify personal artistic variations within those styles.

© 1997, Canadian Heritage Information Network. All Rights Reserved.

Painting on Tsimshian house screen

This house screen is now on permanent display at the Candian Museum of Civilization.

CHIN
UBC Museum of Anthropology

© 1997, Canadian Heritage Information Network. All Rights Reserved.


Lyle Wilson is a Haisla artist from Kitimaat village, near the town of Kitimat, British Columbia, Canada. His first artistic influence was his uncle, Sam Robinson. He later trained at the Emily Carr Institute of Art and Design. He graduated with a diploma in printmaking and began to develop his personal style in graphics, wood and metal.

Lyle’s association with the Museum of Anthropology began in 1987 when he worked as one of the artists on the Image Recovery Project developed by MOA’s graphic designer and photographer William McLennan.

He says: "The Image Recovery Project, ironically a thoroughly technical process, will restore a great deal of human-ness and individuality to our present artistic sensibilities." (1992).
Lyle Wilson is a Haisla artist from Kitimaat village, near the town of Kitimat, British Columbia, Canada. His first artistic influence was his uncle, Sam Robinson. He later trained at the Emily Carr Institute of Art and Design. He graduated with a diploma in printmaking and began to develop his personal style in graphics, wood and metal.

Lyle’s association with the Museum of Anthropology began in 1987 when he worked as one of the artists on the Image Recovery Project developed by MOA’s graphic designer and photographer William McLennan.

He says: "The Image Recovery Project, ironically a thoroughly technical process, will restore a great deal of human-ness and individuality to our present artistic sensibilities." (1992).

© 1997, Canadian Heritage Information Network. All Rights Reserved.

model

Scale model of Lak Kw'alaams (Port Simpson) house front painting by Lyle Wilson, Haisla artist

CHIN
UBC Museum of Anthropology

© 1997, Canadian Heritage Information Network. All Rights Reserved.


The Image Reconstitution Project has brought back, on photos, paintings from the West Coast of British Columbia, and allowed us to present them to the people whose ancestors created them.

Many of the painted images have remained inaccessible in museum warehouses and private collections scattered throughout the world.

For First Nation artists and their communities, this is the occasion to finally discover and define official traditions on which their contemporary art is founded.

The Image Reconstitution Project has brought back, on photos, paintings from the West Coast of British Columbia, and allowed us to present them to the people whose ancestors created them.

Many of the painted images have remained inaccessible in museum warehouses and private collections scattered throughout the world.

For First Nation artists and their communities, this is the occasion to finally discover and define official traditions on which their contemporary art is founded.


© 1997, Canadian Heritage Information Network. All Rights Reserved.

arched wooden box

Reconstituted image on an arched wooden box of Haeltzug origin.

CHIN
UBC Museum of Anthropology

© 1997, Canadian Heritage Information Network. All Rights Reserved.


Plank

Plank from Tsimshian a house front before and after infra-red photography. Northwest Coast Painters of the 18th and 19th Centuries

CHIN
UBC Anthropology Museum

© 1997, Canadian Heritage Information Network. All Rights Reserved.


Learning Objectives

The learner will:

  • Describe the image recovery project and how it is repatriating Haida art
  • Explain how artworks can be identified as originating with a particular region or individual artist
  • Explain the importance of art to Haida culture and reflect on the connection between art and function
  • Describe a contemporary viewpoint of the importance of Haida art and its repatriation

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