On the Wings of Eagle and Raven · Tlingit and Haida Traditions

April 10 – July 6, 2014

On the Wings of Eagle and Raven: Tlingit and Haida Traditions opened on Friday, April 11 at the Arthur Ross Gallery, University of Pennsylvania. The Haida and Tlingit Native Americans have a rich visual tradition that includes highly stylized artifacts and totem representations. These Tlingit and Haida artifacts, executed in wood, shell, hair, pigment, sinew, feather, and spruce root, reveal the artists’ exceptional craftsmanship. This exhibition will feature 41 cultural and material objects that date from the late 19th century to the present. Under the tutelage of Dr. Larry Silver, Farquhar Professor in the Department of the History of Art and Dr. Robert St. George, Associate Professor in the Department of History, Penn undergraduate students were involved in curating the exhibition and writing the exhibition brochure. This curatorial seminar was taught at the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology and 33 exceptional Tlingit and Haida artifacts are lent from the Penn Museum’s collection.

  • (L to R): L: Raven and Whale Bentwood Box. 19th Century. Cedar Carving. Lent by the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, Louis Shotride Collection
    R: Undersea Grizzly Bear Tlingit War Helmet. 19th Century. Shell, Wood, Pigment, Copper, Spruce Root, Hair. Lent by the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, Louis Shotride Collection

The Haida and Tlingit are indigenous groups located in the Pacific Northwest Coast of North America. The main Haida territory is Haida Gwaii (Queen Charlotte Islands), while Tlingits occupy the coastal panhandle of Alaska. The use of animal totems is an important aspect of their traditions. Haida and Tlingit societies are organized into two matrilineal moieties: Ravens or Eagles. Within each moiety, the family lineage recognizes an animal to identify their clan. These elaborate clan crests appear on headdresses, bentwood boxes, and Chilkat blankets.

Since the 19th-century European colonization of the region, Haida and Tlingit homelands were threatened. Christian missionaries sought to reform the beliefs of these Native Americans, and potlatches (fundamental social and economic events) were outlawed. Consequently, their language and art forms weakened. Today there is a resurgence of Native American artists who assert the lasting presence of their cultures.