Published on September 7, 2011 by Amy
The Tlingit people are commonly thought to have originated from Asia, across the Bering Land Bridge. From the heart of what is now the Yukon and British Columbia. The Tlingit people ultimately crossed the mountain barriers back to the coast, and established in an area which was remarkably rich in natural resources.
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In this rich land, the Tlingit tribe as well as the other coastal peoples was able to build up a particularly multifaceted culture, in which the arts were essential. Tlingit families of high social standing practically used every item from bowls and spoons to fish-hooks which was elaborately carved, painted, or engraved with an assortment of materials.
The Tlingit peoples larger houses were enormous structures made with well-groomed, chic support posts and siding made from hemlock slabs which extended families exist among colorful illustration of legendary creatures, spirit-helpers, and ancestors representing both humans and animals. Admission into these houses, or separate “apartments” indoors, was generally made through the belly of a carved or decorated creature, signifying rebirth.
The most spectacular of the Tlingit art symbols is unquestionably the totem pole. The totem pole is a form of Tlingit art forms which were by tradition relatively uncommon in the northern part of Tlingit territory. In the south, the Tlingit totem poles were set in front of or to the sides of the entranceway into their homes. In comparison, the Haida, further to the south, incorporated the totem poles into their house tradition and structure.
Detailed knowledge of the art of Northwest Coast peoples in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries is as a result of intense examination by anthropologists and other researchers as well as by people like photographer Edward S. Curtis who spent nearly 30 years documenting on film both the traditional, ceremonial and the everyday lives of the Kwakiutl, Haida and Tlingit peoples. An inclusive bibliography on Tlingit art would run today into hundreds of listings from every imaginable scientific specialty.
The rebirth of the creation of Tlingit art styles began in a significant way in the late 1940s. Hundreds of artists are now producing Tlingit art pieces in a massive range of media. Modern techniques have permitted various versions of traditional and original Tlingit works of art to flourish all over the land with silk screens on everything from posters to t-shirts and coffee mugs.
Although over-commercializing a culture has countless plausible pitfalls, the ongoing interest, not just in the art of the Tlingit, but in the language, and in the culture as well, virtually assures that the culture is well on its way to being totally revived.