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Avian Avatars: Birds in Northwest Coast Prints from the Colwell Collection

Dec 15 2021 – Jun 12 2022

Seattle Art Museum

Third Floor Galleries

Birds have fascinated humans since the beginning of time and have inspired art and other forms of cultural expression. Birds are present on every continent on earth, their mystery and beauty awakening myths and oral narratives across cultures. Their songs incite deep emotions in us and have been said to engender language, poetry, and music. Scientists and artists alike have been fascinated by their majestic and unfettered variety and have been vocal regarding the devastating effects of climate change on bird species.

Indigenous peoples on the Northwest Coast have ascribed cosmic and spiritual attributes to avian allies, taking them as crests (clan emblems), shaman’s helping spirits, and as teachers. Raven, the most ubiquitous bird of Northwest Coast oral traditions and art, is a shape-shifter, trickster, and culture hero, self-centered and greedy but also humankind’s protector, gifting them water, daylight, salmon, and the potlatch. Eagles, hawks, the mythical thunderbird and other birds figure prominently into ancestral histories and are honored on totem poles, masks, headdresses, rattles and as presented here, in prints. As we emerge from an international pandemic, from grief and isolation, this installation explores the intersection between our feathered friends and Native and First Nations artists.

This is the second presentation of prints coming from the gifts of R. Bruce Colwell and Mary-Louise Colwell, generous donors and avid bird watchers.

Full Moon Egret, 1987, Robert Sebastian (Gitxsan, born 1952), silkscreen print; 22 x 15 inches. Gift of R. Bruce and mary-Louise Colwell, 2018.29.115.2

Seattle Art Museum respectfully acknowledges that we are on Indigenous land, the traditional territories of the Coast Salish people. We honor our ongoing connection to these communities past, present, and future.

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