Books On Northwest Coast Indian Art & Carving


Good books on the art of the Northwest coast used to be hard to find outside the Northwest.  Because of this we have always sold a variety of the best in print at the time.  Now we have computers and Amazon and all the rest, so we have decided to give up bookselling.  Thanks to all of you who did buy books from us over the years!  We still believe in books.  People who live away from the coast must depend on books and/or museums for education, information and inspiration on these subjects.

To learn, visit museums in your area and view the Northwest coast collection.  Take a class or classes and study these books.  Go to your local library, they may have or can get these books for you, even those out of print.

I know of no worthy "how to do it" book on Northwest coast carving.  There have been some rather poor books from time to time but they serve to deprecate the wonderful and complex art of the coast aboriginals.  The totem pole books commonly available advise the carving of objects that little resemble the creations of the original totem carvers.  Bill Holm's Northwest Coast Indian Art and the book Learning by Designing by Jim Gilbert and Karin Clark are both useful for learning formline design, the heart of Northwest coast art.

We are listing some of the best books on the art.  Books on this list may be in or out of print.  Please do your own research on them and have fun.  There are real treasures waiting for you in these volumes.  These are some of my favorites and in no particular order.

For those folks who don't have access to a good local bookstore, we've included links to Amazon where you can likely find a used copy of these books.  (Many independent used booksellers use Amazon listings to reach their buyers, so this is a good way to support them.)  All links open in a new window.

All of the volumes listed below are from more than six years ago.  There are lots of new books out since then; the ones listed here are the classic works on Northwest Coast art & carving.


Boxes and Bowls: Decorated containers by nineteenth century Haida, Tlingit, Bella Bella and Tsinshian Indian artists by William C. Sturtevant

Smithsonian Institution Press. Buy it Used or New from Amazon 


Tangible Visions by Allen Wardwell

Northwest Coast Indian shamanism and its art. A feast of Shamanic objects. Buy it Used or New from Amazon 


Chiefly Feasts: The enduring Kwakiutl potlatch by Aldona Jonaitis

Buy it Used or New from Amazon 


Spirit and Ancestor: A Century of Northwest Coast Indian Art in the Burke Museum by Bill Holm

A century of Northwest Coast Indian art at the Burke Museum University of Washington. Buy it Used or New from Amazon 


The Transforming Image: Painted Arts of Northwest Coast First Nations by Bill McLennan and Karen Duffek

Old boxes with their designs obscured with the patina of age. Photographed with infrared film, they revealed the original work. Lots of photos. Buy it Used or New from Amazon 


Northern Haida Master Carvers by Robin K. Wright

Great background on the Haida and their art. Buy it Used or New from Amazon 


Learning by Designing Pacific Northwest Coast Native Indian Art, vol.1 by Jim Gilbert and Karin Clark

This book is a straightforward, hands-on effort towards the understanding and creation of the formline design system. Buy it Used or New from Amazon 


Kwakiutl Art by Audrey Hawthorn

A fine book from the first curator of the Museum of Anthropology at the University of British Columbia. This book displays virtually all the Kwakiutl art collection at UBC. Buy it Used or New from Amazon 


The Box of Daylight by Bill Holm

Great examples of classic Northwest Coast Indian art. Buy it Used or New from Amazon 


Objects of Bright Pride: Northwest Coast Indian Art from the Museum of Natural Historyby Allen Wardwell

Great things from the collection of the American Museum of Natural History. Buy it Used or New from Amazon 


The Spirit Within by Steve Brown

This book is a favorite of mine, wonderful work, wonderfully photographed. Art from the Seattle Art Museum. Buy it Used or New at Amazon 


Northwest Coast Indian Art: An Analysis of Form by Bill Holm

This classic and scholarly work explains the northern formline system which is the foundation for northern art design. This volume was the "Rosetta stone" of formline design. Buy it Used or New at Amazon 


Cedar by Hilary Stewart

This volume is the best introduction to the coast cultures I know. Copiously illustrated by hundreds of Stewart's fine line drawings. Among the topics covered are tools, pole and canoe carving, and steam bending. Buy it Used or New from Amazon 


Soft Gold: The Fur Trade and Cultural Exchange on the Northwest Coast of America by Thomas Vaughan and Bill Holm

Photographs of 142 objects from the extraordinary ethnographic holdings at the Peabody Museum at Harvard University, plus a chronicle of the early fur trade on the coast. Buy it Used or New from Amazon 


Haida Art by George F. MacDonald

Another stunning book on the Haida by MacDonald. Full of wonderful color photos that will knock your socks off. Buy it Used or New from Amazon 


Haida Monumental Art: Villages of the Queen Charlotte Islands by George F. MacDonald

A wonderful tour of all the major Haida villages in almost 300 historic photographs. If you are interested in poles, this is your book. Buy it Used or New from Amazon 


Native Visions: Evolution in Northwest Coast Art from the Eighteenth Through the Twentieth Century by Steven C. Brown

This catalog for a show at SAM attempts to show the evolution of Northwest Coast Art from the 18th through the 20th centuries. The earlier work is so terrific it overshadows the contemporary, but almost all of it is wonderful. Buy it Used or New from Amazon 


The Legacy: Tradition and Innovation in Northwest Coast Indian Art by Peter L. Macnair, Alan L.Hoover, & Kevin Neary

A full color catalog of a major exhibition of Northwest coast art. One of the older books on the list and still relevant. Buy it Used or New from Amazon 


Indian Fishing: Early Methods on the Northwest Coast by Hilary Stewart

The ingenuity of the coastal peoples and their magic/artistic approach to the practical aspects of their lives was never more evident. Buy it Used or New from Amazon 


People of the Totem: The Indians of the Pacific Northwest Bancroft-Hunt and Forman.

Another cool bunch of photos from the Coast. Buy it Used or New from Amazon 


Spirits of the Water: Native Art Collected on Expeditions to Alaska and British Columbia 1774 - 1910 edited by Steven C. Brown

A 200 page paperback with 200 illustrations, most in color, from European collections. Buy it Used or New from Amazon 


North American Indian Art: Masks, Amulets, Wood Carvings and Ceremonial Dress From the North-West Coast Siebert and Forman.

This long out of print volume has NW Coast art from what was then “behind the Iron Curtain.” It was a real touchstone at the time and still a wonderful book. Buy it Used or New from Amazon 


Smoky-Top, the Art and Times of Willie Seaweed Bill Holm

Great art from the master Willie Seaweed. Buy it Used or New from Amazon 


Raven's Journey: The World of Alaska's Native People Kaplan and Barsness

Clothing and art from Alaska. Buy it Used or New from Amazon