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Bella Coola Frontlet

The ovoid (egg-shaped) eye and strongly outlined eyebrow are common in Northwest Coast art. However, the sharply angled eyes and eyebrows are unique to Bella Coola work.

The frontlet's central figure likely comes from traditional Bella Coola stories in which a transformation between human and animal form takes place.

The frontlet's top figure wears headgear in the form of a bird's head.

key idea
Style with a Story

The Bella Coola people are well known for their skillful carving and bold sculpture. In fact, their work greatly influenced the art of their neighbors. Sharing and borrowing among Northwest Coast groups resulted in a strong regional style with bold shapes, outlines, and colors. Figures combining animal and human features were commonly used in ceremonies. Often such figures were a family's crest, representing its ancestors and lineage.

In spite of the many similarities in Northwest Coast art, there are differences that make each group's style distinctive. Bella Coola frontlets traditionally have a large central figure with smaller figures above and below. Also unique are the sharply angled facial features thrusting dramatically outward and emphasized by the contrasting red and blue-green colors favored by the Bella Coola.

The lower figure, reaching out from the frontlet, may represent the spirit of the central figure.
September 2010