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Bella Coola Frontlet

Dramatic eyes and striking faces, bold shapes and colors, luxurious fur–
this artwork dazzles the imagination. Although you might see it in a museum today, this object wasn't made to be displayed indoors. Rather it was meant to sway and bob atop the head of a dancer as a story was reenacted in firelit ceremony. The materials that compose it and the imagery carved on it reveal much about the people and environment of the Northwest Coast region of North America.

Bella Coola (Nuxalk)
Frontlet, c. 1850
Wood, pigments, abalone shell, copper, ermine pelts, cotton, plant fibers, wool, buttons, sea lion whiskers
Minneapolis Institute of Arts
The Robert J. Ulrich Works of Art Purchase Fund

Gifts from the Earth
A Spectacular Sight
Style with a Story

Animal Artistry: Research the animals of the Northwest Coast. Are they similar to animals in the area where you live? Are they different? Why do you think that is? (Compare climate, geography, etc.) In their artwork, the Native Americans of the Northwest Coast used imagery of animals in their region that had special meaning for them. What animals in your area have special meaning for you or are unique to the region and might inspire your artwork?  

Natural Resources: The Bella Coola frontlet is made of materials obtained from local natural resources and also from trade with other peoples. What natural resources (such as forests for wood, mines for minerals or metals) in your area might provide materials for creating an artwork or an object for some special use? How are these materials acquired today? Are they plentiful or scarce? Does scarcity make a material more valuable to its owner or more costly to obtain? Why do you think that is?  

ArtsConnectEd: Use ArtsConnectEd to find Native American works of art from the region of North America where you live. How has your region's environment influenced these artworks? Expand your research to other regions of North America. What natural resources have supplied materials for art in those areas? How have Native American groups around the continent been inspired by their regional environment? What similarities do you see? What differences can you find? Click here to access the Art Finder. Click here to learn more about Art Finder.  

Family Stories: Talk with family members about your ancestors' history. Where did they come from? What did they do for a living? Was their livelihood tied to the place where they lived (city or countryside)? What surprising things did they do in their lives? What stories did you learn that you did not know before? Using what you learned, can you develop a family tree? Have any traditions or skills been passed down from your ancestors? Share an interesting family story with your class.  

Continued Traditions: Learn more about the Bella Coola (Nuxalk) people by visiting the Nuxalk Nation Web site. Then visit the MIA's Web site Surrounded by Beauty to learn more about Native American Northwest Coast art.  

Reading and Research: There is more to explore! Learn about the plants, animals, and people of the Pacific Northwest by opening up one of these books:

Helman, Andrea. O is for Orca: A Pacific Northwest Alphabet Book. Seattle: Sasquatch Books, 1995.

National Audubon Society. National Audubon Society Regional Guide to the Pacific Northwest. New York: Knopf, 1998.

Press, Petra. Indians of the Northwest: Traditions, History, Legends, and Life. The Native Americans. Milwaukee, Wis.: Gareth Stevens Publishing, 2000.

Rodanas, Kristina. The Eagle's Song: A Tale from the Pacific Northwest. Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1995.  

September 2010