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On view through September 22, 2019

Rivers, streams, and sea were once as well-traveled as Washington’s roads are today. Coastal peoples used the canoe as one of their primary means of travel to move from place to place. Canoes were used in transport, in trade, in war, and sometimes to bury the dead. The carving of a canoe was a spiritual experience from the moment of a tree's selection until the time that the finished craft reached the water.  The knowledge and skills to create canoes were passed down across generations from carver to carver.

But by the early 1900s, few of these canoes were still in existence. The tradition of using canoes to travel faded when motor boats became more common. In 1986, Northwest Coast Nations came together to revive the role of the canoe in Native culture by hosting the first Canoe Journey. Now, indigenous nations from Washington State, Alaska, and British Columbia travel by canoe every summer to share songs, dances, and gifts at the site of a host nation. These Journeys have played a significant role in revitalizing the importance of the canoe and the knowledge and traditions involved in its creation.

This exhibition shows the Washington State Historical Society’s collection of model canoes carved as representations of larger vessels and as art created for the tourist trade. Several different tribes, art styles, and canoe designs are represented here, dating from the 1870s to the early 2000s.

Image credit: Canoe model, Southern Northwest Coast culture area / Makah, circa1900-1922. Carved of wood, with "wolf head" bow and straight stern. Collection of Washington State Historical Society, 1922.184.1.