By Micheal Rios; Collection curated by staff of the Tacoma Art Museum
Since time immemorial, Native artists have expressed the cyclical nature of their culture and unique relationship to the world around them via a vast assortment of mediums available at any given time. This connection continues to evolve in the breathtaking artwork put forth by the current generation of Native creatives. From woodcarving and basketry to jewelry making and painting, an essence of the ancestors’ resiliency is felt in new waves of indigenous artistry proudly pushing their culture forward.
Some artists carve or weave following traditions dating back generations, using the same methods and materials their ancestors used. Others have adapted modern day technology to push the bounds of painting and printmaking to explore culture shifting concepts. Such is the case with today’s formline landscape.
Often, when people think of Native art of the Northwest Coast, they think of formline. An artistic style thought to originate from the first peoples of northern British Columbia and Alaska, formline is characterized by free-flowing thick and thin lines often used in combinations of U-shapes, S-shapes and flattened ovals called ovoids. Most commonly rendered in bold black and red colors, these designs often depict animals and cultural spirits on story poles, hand carved paddles and masks, and most recently t-shirts and fine art prints.
Artwork showcasing the distinct Coast Salish formline style became popular during the Alaska gold rush in the 1890s and the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific exhibit in 1909. The demand for formline continued as the prime choice for public exhibitions and private collections at the same time the Pacific Northwest region saw a dramatic boom in development and residency. As the greater Seattle area continued to develop into a tourism hotbed, the formline style eclipsed all other styles indigenous to the region.
Since the explosion of formline onto the mainstream art scene, countless culturally inclined Native peoples from the Northwest Coast have developed their passion for creativity in an era known as Salish Modern. Tuning their skilled artisan abilities to fulfill the demand for popular formline, the latest wave of Coast Salish artists have infused the art world with innovative prints combining storytelling, powerful cultural reflections, and vibrant Native flare. Such are the prints we offer our readers now.
Dubbed ‘Salish imPRINTS’, this collection is created by artists who call the Salish Sea home and is intended to inspire the inner artist in everyone, while enhancing relevant conversations about a shared past, present and future.