For the past decade the Nuxalk artist, Al Cole, has made an exploration of the complex symbols and designs of Northwest Coast rattles. Rarely has one artist dedicated years to exploring the range of themes and concepts developed over hundreds of years by master carvers from many distinct nations.
Included in this collection is a set containing both a Raven rattle and a Coast Salish style spindle whorl. The artist has determined that the imagery from the rattle was transferred to utilitarian objects like spindle whorls to preserve the cultural information during the time of religious and cultural persecution and the confiscation of objects where shamanic rattles were particularly targeted.
The Raven rattle is one of the most mysterious and definitive objects produced on the Northwest Coast and over time it was adopted by most nations as a chief’s rattle. Raven had the ability to cross all boundaries including time and into the spirit world and therefore this rattle was a reference to the history, knowledge, and power held by the chief and village.
Another equally mysterious rattle was the Oyster Catcher, which also carried references to connections between the spirit worlds of land, sea, and sky. To some accounts, it was the shaman’s rattle given to the chief. With Oyster Catchers, the form of the bird was covered with intricately carved human, animal, and supernatural forms entwined or connected by arching tongues. Regarded as the quintessential carving, for both their complexity and time to accomplish, for artists the carving of these delicate and complex objects was the “final exam” of their carving skills and were often undertaken early in a career.
This is a rare opportunity to see an artist working in series to explore the possibilities of this extraordinary cultural object.