Tlingit Formline Practice: Claw Designs

A long, long time ago when the world was still young, all creatures had the same bodily appearance. All anyone could see were the dim outlines of each other. That is, until Raven released light upon the world. That’s when the various creatures assumed the different forms we see them in today.

Even though humans have bodies different from the animal creatures, we still acknowledge the intelligence and spirit in everything, and so they are our relatives. We talk to the animals. They represent our different clan crests and so we are very close to them.

In Tlingit design, you will see animals with human characteristics. Sometimes the feet and hands of animals will even use human hands. I’ve taken wing designs and made them to suggest human hands with long pointed fingers.

On totems you may see Raven with humanlike arms and legs that have feathers attached. Occasionally, you will see what looks to be like a human morphing into an animal. And of course, there’s always the infamous shape-shifting kooshdaakhaa (land otter-man), who could lure a (usually drowning) person into their own world.

Ambiguity is one of the features of Tlingit art. Body parts like hands and claws might can be interchangeable. So it is good to practice lots of different claws.

Below are two paintings I did that were part of the “Journey to What Matters” permanent installation at the Allen Auditorium on the historic Sheldon Jackson campus. This illustrates what I mentioned above, about how I use large hands to represent wings. Next to it is my rendition of “The Woman Who Married a Bear” so you can see another example of stylized bear claws. Followed by my Tlingit Art Daily Sketch – Claws.

Raven at the Head of Nass

Raven at the Head of Nass

Woman Who Married a Bear

Woman Who Married a Bear

Tlingit Art Daily Sketch Jan 13 - Claws

Mostly Claws






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