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Christopher Nowicki

Northwest Coast Native American and First Nation Canadian Prints

Many people don’t know that there is a strong tradition of printmaking among the native cultural groups of the Pacific Northwest. From Portland to Seattle, Vancouver and to the coast of Alaska there are many tribal groups that in general seem similar but on close inspection are very different.
The art of the Pacific Northwest is unique in its appearance and style. The style is old enough that anthropologists cannot speculate when or where it originated. They theorize that it is very old because the contact with white people and new materials and tools did not change the style at all it just allowed the artists to create larger and more detailed work more easily. The designs were used to decorate everyday items, ceremonial pieces and, ritual objects that are passed down generation to generation for hundreds of years and more. The style is easily recognized for its beautiful sinuous form-lines and balance of color and negative space. The aesthetic aspects are very precise and must follow strict parameters to be acceptable. The major compositional elements are ovoid shapes, u-shapes, and thick and thin form-lines.

Raven by Jeff Skaflestad

These Native people decorated everything that they owned. Their houses were painted with designs. Storage boxes, canoes, house walls, bowls, masks, drums, hats, blankets, spoons, everything was painted or carved with these beautiful designs.
This being said, the creativity and variability of the designs in this tightly controlled style is amazing. The parameters of the visual technique are very strict. But even with these limitations the variation of individual styles is truly astonishing. Below you can this as all the designs are Orcas.


Orca by Terry Williams; Orca by Locodog; Orca by Nytom

For the uninitiated the designs are difficult to recognize but there are elements that define the designs. Most designs represent totem animals and mythical entities. Ravens, Eagles, Bears, Salmon are popular subjects. Ravens and Eagles have the same physical characteristics, wings, beaks, feet and the difference in these individual elements shows what type of creature it is. The beak of a raven is straight and of an eagle it is hooked, the raven toes are more like fingers and the eagle like claws.


Eagle by Greg Horner; Raven by Greg Horner

With experince these features are more easily recognisable among the designs of the different artists. These two designs by Greg Horner also show the extensive use of ovoids, u-shapes and form-line.
Prints were, of course, not a traditional art of the Native peoples. It began with the contact with westerners and did not become a popular method of expression until the 1940’s. And even after that, because of the remoteness of the area and lack of publications and research into this art it was not really appreciated until the 1960’s and 70’s. Now however Native Northwest Coast prints enjoy a international popularity with important collections in England, Germany, and Scandinavia.
I have been lucky to have worked over the years with many Northwest Coast artists printing editions of their designs in serigraph. I began working with Native artists while living in Seattle in the late 1970’s, making limited edition prints for Duane Pasco, Barry Herem, David Boxley and others. In 1993 I was invited to make editions at Alaska Indian Arts in Haines, Alaska, and have worked with artists there for 25 years until this year when the Covid 19 virus appeared. In Haines I printed for well known artists such as John Hagan, Greg Horner, Wayne Price, Ray Watkins and Terry Williams. Working with these people has changed my life and my art. I don’t make Northwest Coast prints myself, I make mezzotints, but the exactness, expression and respect for nature of these people has affected my way of looking at the world around me.
All of the prints that you see her were printed by me with the hand-cut stencil serigraph technique. It is the most basic way of making stencils, it is a challenge to do justice to the beautiful and intricate designs.


Autumn Moon by Allie; Diving Raven by Locodog


Emerging Frog by John Hagan; Frog by Ray Watkins

This style of imagery comes from a relatively small geographical area. Most of the prints in this style are serigraphs because this technique fits the designs best with its ability to produce areas of flat color. And unless you are in a museum or this particular area, these prints are not well known. Most artists have their work printed in commercial shops where printers use the photographic stencil method so the hands-on work is minimised. I do everything by hand. There is not a long history of printing these images compared to techniques like etching, mezzotint of lithograph. So where does this fit into contemporary printmaking in 2020?
This style hasn’t changed for hundreds of years and still has appeal in 2020. This type of printed art is not in the printmaking mainstream but as with other creative processes begins at the mental level. And as with other types of prints these artists strive to put their historic culture, their respect for nature and their personal feelings and ideas into their work. Respect for the animal, bird, or fish they are depicting is put into each design whether it is for a serious tribal ceremony or a print to sell. They take great pride in their work and strive to become the best they can be. Isn’t this what all printmakers want, even in 2020?

Chris Nowicki

Northwest Coast Native American and First Nation Canadian Prints - presentation

Christopher Nowicki (1950, Toledo, Ohio, USA) graduated from the University of Toledo, in 1973, with a Bachelor of Fine Art Degree after studying at the prestigious Toledo Museum of Art. He received his Master of Fine Art degree from the University of Washington in Seattle in 1977 where he was Assistant of Record for Prof. Glen Alps. He is a Visiting Professor at Northeast Normal University in Changchun, China and an Honorary Professor at Yanbian University in Yanji, China. He is the recipient of many international awards and is a well- known lecturer and curator. Currently has lived in Poland for 25 years and is a professor of printmaking at the Eugeniusz Geppert Academy of Fine Art and Design in Wroclaw, Poland. He is also is Head of the Serigraph Studio. More



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