Fashioning Tourists and Outsiders: Northwest Coast Design Trade

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Green, Denise
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International Textile and Apparel Association (ITAA) Annual Conference Proceedings
Iowa State University Conferences and Symposia

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This paper examines Nuu-chah-nulth First Nations' traditions of producing bodily adornments and clothing for trade with outsiders, from the 1700s through today, by looking at early examples in museum and archival collections and concluding with an ethnography of contemporary artists and designers. The earliest Nuu-chah-nulth dress and adornment artifacts currently held in museums were collected during Captain Cook's third expedition in 1778. These collections show that the Nuu-chah-nulth maintained extensive trade networks as Aleutian textiles and dress and Tlingit masks, armor, and hats are part of Cook's collection. Nuu-chah-nulth people began changing their designs to target European and American markets by the mid 19th century when women began producing pika-uu (decorative basketry). Merchant and cruise ships alike stopped along the coast and passengers purchased curio basketry in all shapes and forms: mats, covered bottles and abalone shells, baskets, hats, earrings, and pendants. Art history scholars refer to the 1920s - 1950s as the “dark period†of Northwest Coast art, as First Nations people struggled with residential schooling, Indian hospitals and the spread of disease, and aggressive assimilationist policies adopted in Canada (Cole 1985). As legislation changed and Canada accepted multiculturalism, Northwest Coast art exploded in the 1970s and continues to play a critical role in fashioning the bodies of both tourists and Nuu-chah-nulth people alike. In recent years, Nuu-chah-nulth designers have embraced new technologies, like silk screen printing, while retaining traditional production techniques in order to produce fashions that are exceedingly popular among tourists.