Sunday, September 07, 2008

Totem Moon: Encounters with Native American Art of the Pacific Northwest

Today, I would like to share the artwork of Pat Amos a Native American artist from British Columbia who works in wood and paint creating totems, masks, sculptures, and murals. He also teaches woodworking and Native American art classes.

The name of this piece is Eagle Crescent Moon.

You can see some more of his work here.

I first encountered stylized images like this when I was ten, during a car trip with my family. We traveled up along the coast starting in southern California, and driving through Oregon, Washington and British Columbia. It was on this trip that I feel in madly in love with totem poles as only a ten year old can. It was also where I encountered the stylized, evocative, symbolic forms contained in Haida art.

I love Haida because it so beautifully combines the fluid lines of nature in a way that is both specific and abstract. I have been drawn to animal myths and imagery all of my life, and Haida art offers some of the most beautiful animal symbolism you will ever encounter. These images are based in a rich cultural tradition; something that I had not encountered until that point. At ten, what little I knew about other cultures came from the pages of National Geographic (1). I do remember feeling a strong connection with these pieces, much like the connection I felt to certain natural places and animals. So that summer I looked for totems and Haida art whereever we went. My parents, bless them, went out of their way to find parks, museums and gift stores where we can see reproductions and well as the real thing. My love for animal and nature-inspired art , a love I discovered on that trip, has stayed with me. When I later encountered mythopoetics in college in the early 70's, my love of these art forms, my studies in world myth and shamanism and the path of the Green Witch (a journey I had just begun) all converged, creating a heart shrine I carry with me to this day. Later on, I was able to add in the traditions, rituals and art forms from my own ancestral heritage, as well the strengths and insights I gained reading eco-feminist, (2) Taoist, and Pagan writers. Each step along the road continues to enriched that shrine. Today, I live in the one of those special places; the kind with a vital culture that celebrates the link between spirit and form. Lucky me.

Names for the Moon:

Native American traditions have given us some beautiful names for the full moons we see throughout the year. Here are a few:

January - Old Moon, Wolf Moon
February - Snow Moon
March - Sap Moon, Worm Moon, Crow Moon, Crust Moon
April - Grass Moon, Pink Moon, Moon of the Red Grass Appearing
May - Milk Moon, Flower Moon
June - Rose Moon, Strawberry Moon
July - Thunder Moon, Buck Moon
August - Green Corn Moon, Corn Moon, Sturgeon Moon
September - Fruit Moon, Harvest Moon
October - Harvest Moon, Hunter's Moon
November - Frost Moon, Beaver Moon
December - Long Night Moon, Cold Moon

from Tim Kallman, Karen Smale, and Pat Tyler for the Ask an Astrophysicist team

Flickr has a good collection of photos featuring Native American art of the Pacific Northwest. One photo of a totem carving of bear paws and a crescent moon drum titled Totem Moon is one of my favorites.

Teachers and earthwise parents might enjoy this page on the culture and traditons of the Pacific Northwest tribes of the coast.



Related Articles:

Spirit Bird

Honoring Deer: What the Stag and the Earth Mother Teach Us

Bunny Mana

Deer Myth, Legends & Songs

About Time: Resolution of Apology to Native Peoples of the United States

Why Words Matter II: Saying Sorry
On the government's apology to the native people of Australia

Additional Links:

Names of the Moons in Native American Tradition

Multicultural Science Education - Myths, Legends and Moon Phases

Totem Poles of the Pacific Northwest
"The word "totem" itself derives from an Ojibwa word, "ototeman," and "totemism" in anthropological terms refers to the belief that a kin group is descended from a certain animal and treats it with special care, refraining from eating or hunting it. The figures carved on Northwest Coast poles generally represent ancestors and supernatural beings that were once encountered by the ancestors of the lineage, who thereby acquired the right to represent them as crests, symbols of their identity, and records of their history." (click on the link above to read more about this unique and sacred art form.

American Indian Totem Poles - more pictures and links

Lunar Phases

Native American Tribes of the Pacific Northwest

Recognizing Fake Native American Art Carvings Made In Indonesia


(1) Not a bad place to start, really, especially for a little anglo girl, growing up in a WASP haven in the late 50's and early 60's.Thanks, Mom.

(2) Which reminds me, I could wish for a stronger visual link to the feminine in Haida art. More on that in another post.

Photo: Courtesy of the Coghlan Art Galley. The 2500 square foot gallery is located outside of Seattle and they offer wood work, carvings, prints, paintings and jewelry by Native artists. Click on their link to see work by other, Native American artists.

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