"Potlatch Guests Arriving at Sitka, Winter 1803"
Original acrylic 24" x 40" by Bill Holm © 1997
Collection of the Alaska State Museums

The painting was made to illustrate my article "The Head Canoe" for the Sheldon Jackson Museum's centennial volume Faces, Voices, and Dreams. I wanted to show three canoe styles: head-canoes, the early form of the classic "northern" canoe that superseded them in the first decade of the nineteenth century, and the northern Tlingit "spruce" canoes that were related in form to the head canoes and continued in use until the twentieth century.

Since the setting of the picture is the beach in front of the Sitka village, the time had to be before Baranof drove the Tlingits from this site in 1804. When they returned to Sitka in 1821, the head canoe had gone out of use. Since the early form of the northern canoe was just being developed at the beginning of the century, I chose 1803 as the date of the picture. At that time the classic Chilkat blanket was just on the verge of appearing, so all the twined blankets in the picture are of the early geometric or the transitional design. The Tlingits had been trading with Europe for nearly a decade by that time, so trade blankets and European shirts would have been seen among them.

It is a clear winter morning, with the sun low in the south and Mount Edgecumbe looming over Japonski Island to the west. The host chief, in the shadow of the houses above the beach, greets his guests who are dancing and singing in their canoes clustered in the channel just offshore.

Friends of Sheldon Jackson Museum poster, 1987
Faces, Voices, and Dreams. Alaska State Museums, 1987
Through Indian Eyes. Reader's Digest General Books, 1996

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