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.
Eagle is an especially prominent figure in artwork on the Northwest Coast. There is a large population of eagles along the coast of the Pacific Northwest. Eagle is one of two crests among the Haida and Tlingit, and one of the main crests among the Tsimshian and Heiltsuk. It is typically respected for extraordinary vision, in both the literal and figurative senses.
Eagle is considered one of the most sacred figures as it has been said to carry the prayers of the people to the Creator and Eagles are frequently referenced in ceremonial contexts. Eagle feathers and down are customarily used in a variety of different ceremonies such as honouring a respected guest. In Northwest Coast artwork, Eagle is often depicted with a hooked beak and small ears.
Bear is one of the most prevalent figures in Northwest Coast art and oral tradition. Bear is often considered to be a close relation to humankind and a link between the human and non-human realms due to physical characteristics such as appearance and expression, as well as anthropomorphic behaviours like nurturing young and standing on hind legs. Associated with strength and fierceness, Bears have been depicted as guardians and protectors of human heroes. Bear is identified by a wide mouth with prominent teeth, a short round snout with large nostrils, and clawed feet.