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.
Thunderbird is not a primary crest figure amongst Northern Nations, instead being associated with southern nations like the Nuu-chah-nulth, Salish, and Kwakwaka’wakw. Some oral traditions suggest that Thunderbird preys on Killer Whales and lives in the peaks of the coastal mountains. Others recount that this supernatural figure creates the boom of thunder as he flaps his wings in flight and is said to shoot lightning snakes from his eyes. It is sometimes suggested to epitomize power and strength. Not to be confused with Eagle, Thunderbird is identified by an exaggerated crooked beak and prominent horns. Sometimes artists will depict Thunderbird with teeth, lightning motifs, or alongside Killer Whale.
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.