Bichrome on Handmade Paper
Indigenous artwork on the Pacific Northwest Coast often incorporates figures and animals that are related to crest symbols. Crests have been passed down through families and have varying meanings depending on the context and association with a nation, clan, or family. The figures depicted in contemporary Northwest Coast Indigenous artwork also have varying meanings but there are some common characteristics from a range of sources, including oral histories and artist descriptions.
Beaver appears in Northwest Coast art and is a crest figure in many regions. In oral traditions, Beaver is said to keep to itself and cares little for the activities of humans. In one such tradition, the first ancestral Beaver was a woman who spent her time swimming while waiting for her husband and eventually turned into a Beaver. In another tradition, Beaver is one of Raven’s uncles from whom Raven borrows many treasures. Some say it is best to listen when Beaver speaks as he is wise and reserved. Beaver can be recognized by a Bear-like head, rounded snout, short ears, and prominent incisor teeth. On historic pieces, these teeth are often red, as they are in nature. Beaver is often shown with a large scaled tail and holding or chewing on a piece of wood. He is sometimes pictured with a hare lip.