CANOE MODELS FROM
THE JAMES AND MARILYB BERGSTROM COLLECTION
The Northwest Coast canoe tradition is a rich and varied one, with many different tribes and language groups developing their own unique styles of watercraft. Each of these styles addressed the challenge of maritime transportation with canoe hull forms that were especially suited to open water hunting or traveling, and also incorporated sleek, fair, graphic lines that indicate a great deal of genius and sophistication in their design. Many old-time canoemakers also created detailed models, both prior to and after Euro-American contact, and these have served to tell us a lot about the evolution of the overall canoe tradition.
This collection features an unusually broad selection of model types, spanning from the 18th century to the early 20th, and depicting canoe styles from Washington Gulf of Alaska. Two fine kayak models and one of birchbark round out the picture that this collection provides of Native watercraft from the northern Pacific coast of North America.
The earliest northern canoe tradition exemplified by two fine Head canoe models, each of which illustrates the unusual and intriguing form of this archaic canoe type, as well as featuring exceptional examples of formline painting. Three examples of the 19th century Northern canoe type (that which supplanted the Head canoe in general usage) show the graceful lines and functional flares that made these canoes both highly seaworthy and a joy to behold. The unusual Yakutat style hunting canoe, with its triangular, forward extension of the lower hull, is represented in two very well shaped and painted models.
The fascinating, animated lines of the Nuu-Chah-Nulth or Nootkan style canoe has intrigued viewers for centuries. A more alert, animated graphic design for such a watercraft could hardly be imagined. Made over many centuries of time and a wide geographic area, the consistency of characteristics in these (and other canoe models) made by different artists is astounding. The smooth, fair lines of the straight canoe models are a pleasure to see, and some makers have gone a bold step further by carving paddlers and hunters within the models, sometimes, as in these examples, of a single piece of wood. One of the two such models in this collection depicts two portly humanoid beings set low in the canoe hull, while the other very accurately illustrates a steersman and spearman in the act of approaching their seal quarry. The harpoon, paddle, and arms of these figures are added, but their bodies are intergral with the canoe, truly an accomplished feat of carving skill.
Steven C. Brown
Seattle Art Museum
Associate Curator for Native American Art