Northwest Pacific Art in Metal Clay

The Native peoples of the Pacific northwest of the United States have a unique art style (; actually, there are several styles, because there are differences among peoples. Many of these Native people feel it is cultural appropriation for non-Natives to use their art style. I agree with them, in that a non-Native who sells art based on a Native style has stepped outside appropriate boundaries of behavior. However, if one is making art for one’s one use or for a gift, it is not as clear to me that it is inappropriate for a non-Native to make Native style art. With that provision, Northwest Pacific art made in metal clay can be truly beautiful, and is rarely done. I’m going to talk about doing it, and provide an example of a salmon made from silver clay.

First, Northwest Pacific art focuses on animals, with certain features redefined as flattened ovals and with some other features made to resemble humans. The flattened ovals can be produced by creating the outline of the figure in one layer of clay, and then adding other layers as needed. Similarly, the human-like features can be carved. To get a feel for Northwest Pacific art, study examples made by Native peoples; nothing beats studying the real thing. Now, onto the salmon.


I started by cutting a salmon shape from silver clay. Salmon, in Native art, often have human-like teeth; I incised those into the metal clay with a straight pin (spoiler: the teeth really didn’t show when the piece was finished).


I did the typical sanding and smoothing; freshly cut metal clay never looks right.  Then I started adding the types of features that define Northwest Pacific art.



Then more, layering as need be. The sharp edges were rounded out by using a damp make-up applicator. Rubbing it over the silver clay rounded out the edges.


Bails, as well as more decorative elements, were added.


The finished greenware appears above.


The piece was fired and tumbled like any silver clay.

The finished product appears below. I chose a very light patina. The coin is for scale.


As stated earlier, I am uncomfortable with non-Natives selling work based on Native art. However, this piece was made as a gift. With that in mind, there is a wide world of Northwest Pacific Art for the metal clay artist to explore.





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