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.
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.
Raven is one of the most recognized figures in Northwest Coast art and oral tradition. Viewed oftentimes as a transformer and a trickster, Raven is the hero of many adventures such as the release of light into the world and the discovery of mankind. As a trickster figure, Raven can be celebrated for his cleverness, wit, and mischievous nature. In some oral traditions, Raven possesses the ability to shape-shift and is often depicted with a sense of humor and playfulness. Raven is identified by a thick, straight beak and the lack of plumage or horns on the head. Oftentimes, Raven will be depicted with a ball of light in his beak.