Home Close-Up: Alexander Dawkins, Author Understanding Northwest Coast Indigenous Jewelry

Close-Up: Alexander Dawkins, Author Understanding Northwest Coast Indigenous Jewelry

by Meredith Areskoug
Bill Reid (Haida), hand-engraved and repoussé gold Raven pendant. Photo: Kenji Nagai

by Robin Laurence

“Basically, there was always a need,” Alexander Dawkins says, explaining what motivated him to write Understanding Northwest Coast Indigenous Jewelry, published by Greystone Books. An art historian and co-owner of Vancouver’s Lattimer Gallery, Dawkins recounts that “customers would come in, practically on a daily basis, with the same ten questions about the art form.”

For a number of years, he and his business partner Peter Lattimer discussed how great it would be to have an accessible resource that would answer their questions, one that focused on the contemporary hand-engraved Indigenous jewelry unique to the northwest coast of North America. They threw ideas back and forth and together established “what it would look like, how long it would be, what kind of information it would contain,” Dawkins says. A couple of years ago, he sat down to actually write the book.

Beautifully designed and illustrated, with a foreword by the acclaimed Kwakwaka’wakw jeweler Corinne Hunt, it is the fi rst comprehensive guide to the “wearable art form” that is contemporary Northwest Coast Indigenous jewelry. The book covers its history and traditions, symbolism, styles, techniques and leading artists. It examines the jewelry’s Indigenous origins, its incorporation of symbols from family crests and origin stories, its adaptation of post-contact trade materials and designs, its production for sale in non-Indigenous markets, and its great florescence, after decades of colonial oppression, from the mid-20th century on.

Book launch at the Bill Reid Gallery of Northwest Coast Art June 14, 5-7pm

Published Work: Pieces from Understanding Northwest Coast Indigenous Jewelry, an exhibition of 30-plus engraved silver objects commissioned to illustrate the “Symbolism” section of the book, Lattimer Gallery, June 15-29