Since the early 19th century, Native Northwest Coast artists have repurposed materials like copper, coin silver, and cloth and integrated them into an already established aesthetic, resulting in vibrant expressions of Indigenous modernity. Like other intercultural art forms, silkscreen prints have been fully absorbed into Native life as potlatch gifts, which serve as a means of passing down family histories, as markers of survival, and as conduits of artistic experimentation and personal expression. Since the 1970s, prints have also created a lucrative market for artists from Washington to Alaska.
Silkscreen printing is a method in which ink is printed through stencils that are supported by a fabric mesh stretched across a frame (screen). Stencils are ideal for producing bold graphic designs—like the crest animals and mythic beings from oral traditions—and exciting experimentation in subject, composition, and style are hallmarks of this ever-evolving genre.
Drawn from the R. Bruce and Mary-Louise Colwell gifts to SAM in 2018 and 2019, Inked! surveys the first four decades of local Indigenous print production. This watershed period saw greater professionalization of standards and marketing, resulting in an expanding and dynamic art form.
Image: Salmon Homecoming, 1996, Susan A. Point, First Nations, Musqueam, b. 1952, silkscreen, 20 1/2 x 19 1/2 in., Seattle Art Museum, Gift of R. Bruce and Mary-Louise Colwell, 2018.29.107, © Artist or Artist’s Estate