The modern flag of the Chinook Nation combines elements of Chinookan Art Style.  Used with permission.

From Columbia Hills State Park east of The Dalles, downriver to Effigy Beach and out to the Pacific Ocean, hundreds of pictographs, petroglyphs, and other found artifacts testify to the ancient roots of the artistic traditions of the Columbia River region’s original inhabitants. Though recognizably part of an overall Pacific Northwest artistic tradition, Chinookan art belongs to a “southern coast” tradition and has a style distinct to the Lower Columbia River region. Lower Columbia River art, in particular, is recognizable by distinctive design elements. Tony A. Johnson and Adam McIsaac discuss these elements and the uses of artistic representation in their chapter, “Lower Columbia River Art” in Chinookan Peoples of the Lower Columbia, University of Washington Press, 2013.

The modern Chinook Nation flag incorporates a human face and salmon form using circles, shapes, negative space, and a three-plane human facial design. “Lower Columbia Art involves both zoomorphic and anthropomorphic figures and is strongly influenced by an aboriginal perspective of anatomy. Bodies are geometricized, and faces are composed of planes applied to geometric shapes such as diamonds, circles, and octagons. Observers often have noted the ‘skeletal’ or ‘x-ray’ attributes of the art.”


A fragment of a clay pipe designed with raised zigzags. “Basic geometric shapes, appearing as either incised or raised elements, are the backbone of the style. Concentric geometric shapes and bands of interlocking positive zigzags are typical and often help define larger positive background spaces. They also appear integrally in anthropomorphic and zoomorphic imagery. The word ‘geometry’ is misleading, and it may be most appropriate to refer to this attribute of the art as “organic geometry,” Johnson and McIsaac, page 202. Image # DSC 4944. Courtesy of Doug Wilson, National Parks Service.


Carved stone pipe bowl found near Fort Vancouver, Washington. “The Chinookan Art Style, which appears in the utilitarian objects of material culture, uses geometric shapes as elaboration and in representational figures, while employing a unique perspective on human and animal forms,” Johnson and McIsaac, page 199. Image # FOVA-DSC0395. Courtesy of Fort Vancouver National Historic Site.


“The tsagiglalal [facial] type is named for the most famous image of this type, a pictograph near Old Wishram village, upriver from The Dalles on the north shore of the Columbia. Tsagiglalal, commonly known as ‘she-who-watches,’ is most associated with the easternmost Chinookan villages. […] The tsagiglalal face type is characterized by almond-shaped eyes and a strong brow line that arches down to define the eyes. . . . The mouth grows from the corner of the eyes, producing a ‘grinning’ appearance, and it most often includes a tongue or tooth,” Johnson and McIsaac, pp. 205-206. Image # LC 3a49744r. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

carved human head

Human head carved in stone, Columbia River. This is another example of the tsagiglalal facial type, with almond eyes deepened by concentric raised shapes, curved brows, and ‘grinning’ mouth. Image # ANT: YPM.3174. Courtesy of Yale Peabody Museum.


Figures in Chinookan art are usually shown from a frontal perspective, such as this standing figure painted over the doorway of the Cathlapotle Plankhouse at the Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge, Ridgefield, Washington. The length and shape of the arms, the “ribs” on the torso, and the arrangement of the facial features in three distinct planes (forehead, eyes and cheeks, mouth and chin) are all typical of Chinookan Art Style. Photo courtesy of Carolee Harrison.

carved seal's head

A stone carving of a seal’s head from the Columbia River region. Incised lines create positive and negative space that give the features their dynamic expression. Image # ANT: YPM.3152. Courtesy of Yale Peabody Museum.


Chinookan Memorial, Parker’s Landing National Historic Site, Washougal, Washington. Greg A. Robinson’s carved basalt sculpture shows a standing figure with a two-plane facial structure in a diamond shape, zigzags and repeated shapes, and a stylized figure of a coyote. Photo courtesy of Donna Sinclair.


A selection of wooden objects carved by Sam Robinson. The handles of bowls and spoons are decorated with animal shapes after historic examples of similar Chinookan utensils, and the larger bowls echo the shapes of canoes. In the foreground is a Chinookan canoe paddle. CCRH photo. Re-visioning this place, Columbia River Maritime Museum, 2008.