Robert Davidson's comment is that this is “an incredible archive of paintings by Northwest Coast artists, allowing the viewer to explore the creativity, energy, and depths these artists have achieved.” Robert Davidson is one of Canada’s most respected and important contemporary visual artists. A Northwest Coast native of Haida and Tlingit Descent, he is a master sculptor of totem poles and masks and works in a variety of other media as a printmaker, painter and jeweler.
In the two decades since its initial publication, The Transforming Image has become a must-have book for scholars and appreciators of Northwest Coast art, and, importantly, for First Nations artists, who have found inspiration in its wealth of images and ideas. A new edition of this groundbreaking volume makes its invaluable findings accessible once again.
Its hundreds of photos of historical Indigenous artworks—objects and belongings now widely dispersed in collections around the world—are the extraordinary result of the Museum of Anthropology’s Image Recovery Project, which used infrared photography to reveal paintings on historical Northwest Coast objects whose surfaces are obscured by the patina of age. The project assembled images of nearly a thousand different paintings over its two-decade run, and worked with contemporary First Nations artists to reconstruct the compositions and understand their original context and significance, which the authors discuss in their insightful and engaging commentary. These rediscovered artworks radically deepened the understanding of Northwest Coast First Nations painting, including techniques, materials, imagery, and the creativity of generations of ancestor artists.
A new preface by Karen Duffek speaks to what the book has helped set in motion, and how First Nations artists and scholars today are taking this art forward in new and compelling directions.
Bill McLennan (1948–2020) was Curator, Pacific Northwest at MOA. His pioneering research with infrared photography resulted in The Transforming Image: Painted Arts of Northwest Coast First Nations (with Karen Duffek, 2000); this book and other achievements reflect his passion for researching the history and dynamics of Northwest Coast art, and for sharing his knowledge with others.
Karen Duffek is the Curator of Contemporary Visual Arts and Pacific Northwest at MOA. Committed to supporting the activation of Northwest Coast Indigenous collections inside and outside the museum, her research, exhibitions, and publications focus on the relationships between historical and contemporary art practices, museum collections, communities, and art markets.