The Transforming Image
Painted Arts of Northwest Coast First NationsBook - 2000
All who have seen the results so far agree that ... [thepaintings] being revealed to us are [among] the great masterpieces notonly of the Northwest Coast, but of the whole world. -- Bill Reid
Struck by the dynamic character of a nineteenth-century NorthwestCoast painted chest that he had walked past many times at the museumwhere he worked, Bill McLennan decided to photograph it for closerstudy. Infrared film produced surprising results. Painted areas thathad been obscured with a patina of oils and soot could now be clearlyseen, as the complete painting emerged from beneath the weatheredsurface. With this find, the Image Recovery Project was born, whoseobject was to produce a database of infrared photographs of historicalNorthwest Coast paintings.
The Transforming Image: Painted Arts of Northwest Coast FirstNations brings together some of the most intriguing images, manyrevealed for the first time in over a hundred years. Karen Duffek'stext adds new insights derived from the project's detective work,linking painted images to communities, histories, and the hands ofindividual painters.
The story of Northwest Coast painting is continuous and unfolding.It begins with the emergence of the painted line on cedar and skin: thefirst brushstrokes of an expressive tradition thousands of years in themaking. Like the painted images themselves, this story has been shapedby the hands of generations of painters and by the forces of history.Its visual language is at once organic and highly structured. Its formsspeak of space and balance, of tension and release. Its themes belongas much to the ancient past as to the present day, linking oralnarrative and the visible world, and crossing the boundaries betweenhuman, animal, and spiritual realms.
The Transforming Image arose from the need of currentgenerations to gain access to the creative achievements of theirancestors and to build on the cultural knowledge that the old paintingscould reveal. The ravenous collecting of painted works, coupled withthe depopulation and suppression of Native culture, eventually leftonly a remnant of this rich material heritage in British Columbia. Nowscattered throughout the world in museums and private collections arethe bentwood storage boxes, chiefs' chests, drums, and otherobjects that were the 'canvas' for Northwest Coast painters inthe eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Only gradually are some ofthese properties being returned to the people whose ancestors made andused them. The repatriation of images through photography offers atleast a partial solution and brings these works to a wider audience aswell.