A Basic Guide to Northwest Coast Formline Art
Compiled by Rico Lanáat' Worl, Shaadoo'tlaa, and Donald Héendeí Gregory.
Art is integral to the life ways of the Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimshian. It surrounds us and it holds us up. Our Northwest Coast art is ingrained in the social fabric and oral histories of our clans. It is characterized by formline—a term used to describe the unique artistic style of the indigenous people of the Northwest Coast. Formline is a composition of lines whose widths vary to create form. The overall collection of these compose an image or design. The formline designs may represent stories of Raven (the Trickster), historic events, clan crests, or other concepts. Formline is an art that dates back more than two thousand years (Brown 1998). Two-dimensional formline is depicted on objects such as bentwood boxes, clan hats, and house screens. Though formline is drawn in two dimensions, it transforms to be adapted to three-dimensional pieces, such as masks and totem poles. In this booklet we hope to provide a concise and easy-to-understand guide for interpreting Northwest Coast formline art.