Robert Davis Hoffmann, Tlingit Artist

The Artist

Tlingit Indian from Kake, Alaska. Tsaagweidi clan, Xaay Hit (Yellow Cedar House). My Tlingit name is Xaashuch’eet.

I’ve always loved carving cedar, but I find much freedom in designing in our formline style.

I explore ways to represent contemporary issues by using themes of re-creation and transformation, bridging the past to the present.

About Tlingit.Me

I created the Daily Sketch blog to force me to practice our formline designs daily, and also to help others begin understand some of the principles and uses behind the art form generally known as Pacific Northwest Coast formline.

I believe that teaching about our art leads to an appreciation of this sophisticated art form, and hopefully it encourages interest in our rich Tlingit culture.  Understanding indigenous cultures allows us to be more sensitive to the experiences and challenges of native groups subjected to settlement colonization.

Art speaks across cultural differences.

About Tlingit Formline

Northwest Coast art is the term commonly applied to a style of art created primarily by artists from Tlingit, Haida, Heiltsuk, Tsimshian, Kwakwaka’wakw, Nuu-chah-nulth and other First Nations and Native American tribes of the Northwest Coast of North America, from pre-European-contact times up to the present.

Distinguishing Characteristics

Northwest Coast art is distinguished by the use of formlines, and the use of characteristic shapes referred to as ovoids, U forms and S forms. Before European contact, the most common media were wood (often Western red cedar), stone, and copper; since European contact, paper, canvas, glass, and precious metals have also been used. If paint is used, the most common colours are red and black, but yellow is also often used, particularly among Kwakwaka’wakw artists.[1]Chilkat weaving applies formline designs to textiles. Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimshian have traditionally produced Chilkat woven regalia, from wool and yellow cedar bark, that is important for civic and ceremonial events, including potlatches.

The patterns depicted include natural forms such as bears, ravens, eagles, orcas, and humans; legendary creatures such as thunderbirds and sisiutls; and abstract forms made up of the characteristic Northwest Coast shapes. Totem poles are the most well-known artifacts produced using this style. Northwest Coast artists are also notable for producing characteristic “bent-corner” or “bentwood” boxes, masks, and canoes. Northwest Coast designs were also used to decorate traditional First Nations household items such as spoons, ladles, baskets, hats, and paddles; since European contact, the Northwest Coast art style has increasingly been used in gallery-oriented forms such as paintings, prints and sculptures.

Wikipedia contributors. "Northwest Coast art." Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 16 Jan. 2015. Web. 16 Jan. 2015.

Some Considerations

If you’re getting your practice from copying clan crest designs, please keep in mind some of the ideas behind clan crest ownership as explained by Rosita Worl, Ph.D, in the section of this article that talks about At.oow. 

Also, please become familiar with how to avoid cultural appropriation, or more accurately, cultural misappropriation.

Tlingit formline design is such a beautiful style, people worldwide are attracted to its elegance without understanding why. The deeper you delve into the study of formline, the more you begin to appreciate the designs. What better way to understand something than by trying it out (keeping in mind the principles of At.oow).

Finally, I don’t wish to discourage practice. I will ask you that if you happen to be using my Daily Formline Sketches to practice from, please use them only in that manner. Images on this site are copyright of Robert Davis Hoffmann, unless attributed otherwise.