UW News

January 9, 2015

50th anniversary edition of Native art book released

News and Information

Half a century ago, UW graduate Bill Holm published what would become a seminal work on the distinctive art of the people who first inhabited the Pacific Northwest.

Northwest Coast Indian Art” was the result of Holm’s 15-year analysis of hundreds of artworks while studying at UW under Erna Gunther, former director of the Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture. The book introduced new terminology that soon became part of the accepted vocabulary to describe works that conveyed Indian legends and passed along family stories.

Northwest Coast Indian Art

Northwest Coast Indian Art

The book, one of the best-selling titles ever published by University of Washington Press, is credited with inspiring new generations of Northwest Coast artists. A 50th anniversary edition was released last month, featuring more than 130 color illustrations and reflections from contemporary Northwest artists about its impact.

“Through his book, Bill Holm helped many artists launch their careers in the vocabulary of Northwest Coast art,” renowned Canadian Haida artist Robert Davidson writes. “Because of this book, many practicing artists today have a jump-start on learning the formula of Northwest Coast art.”

The art made by Northwest Coast Indian tribes vibrantly depicted their beliefs in a spiritual world of humans, animals and mythical creatures. Artists used materials ranging from wood to bone, coins to shells, and their works included both ceremonial and household objects. But Indian art waned in the early 20th century with the advent of European commercialization. Holm, as well as numerous Native artists and critics, is credited for launching a renaissance of Northwest Coast art in the 1960s.

Now a UW professor emeritus of art history and curator emeritus of at the Burke Museum, Holm is considered an international expert in Northwest Coast Native art history. His books have won numerous accolades, and he has been honored by Native and arts associations. In 2008, Holm received an honorary doctoral degree from the University of Alaska, Fairbanks.