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.
Sun is not a common crest figure but does occur as a crest amongst the Kwakwaka’wakw. Therefore, Sun is often depicted by artists of this nation. The designs can be quite dramatic, with pronounced and elaborate rays. To the Haida, oral traditions suggest that Sun (along with Moon and all Light) was stolen by Raven and released into the sky to illuminate the world. Sun is often, though not always, portrayed as a masculine form and viewed as the counter-figure to Moon. Depicted with any number of rays surrounding a humanoid face, Sun is, at times, emblematic of life-giving, creativity, and benevolence. In some depictions, Sun will have the face of Eagle or Hawk, and may have rays shown in the shape of human hands.
Moon is not among the most common crest figures but is frequently depicted in the art of the Northwest Coast. Often holding significant symbolism and depicted in varying forms, the Moon can represent a celestial force that carries both spiritual and practical associations. To some, Moon is associated with peace and transformation, but on occasion is regarded as a protector and guardian. Many nations associate Moon with a feminine aspect. The Nuu-chah-nulth, whose year is comprised of thirteen lunar years, view Moon as a masculine figure. There is also a Nuu-chah-nulth oral tradition that recounts that lunar eclipses occur when a giant, supernatural Codfish or Lingcod tries to swallow the Moon, thereby momentarily blocking the light. In Nuxálk culture, the Moon appears frequently in the Winter Ceremonies. Most often characterized by humanoid features, Moon can be distinguished from Sun by a lack of prominent rays, instead bearing a rim or halo of design around the circumference. In some instances, a labret in the Moon’s bottom lip indicates feminine associations.