Greatest American Painters

Bill Holm (1925)

Posted by M.R.N. on January 14, 2011

Raven Warrior

Blue Beaded Guncase

Approach To Tsakhees



19 Responses to “Bill Holm (1925)”

  1. WF Posey said

    While Bill Holm is a very good artist, his work is entirely imaginary and does not in any way show the reality of tribal life, at anytime, ever. He is often thought to be an American Indian but he is not. His personal arrogance, coupled with his disrespect for tribal reality marks his work as abusive fantasies that do more harm than good. Perhaps every work should be judged on its own merits, but when the subject is historical in context, accuracy and honorable rendering are everything. I am an American Indian, I spent a lot of time with the Pacific Northwest tribes, where Holm’s influence is considered very perverse.

    • Annie Wolf said

      Wow…really?!? In Raven Warrior, the shape of the canoes are correct, the form line design is correct, the painted paddles are correct – all details are historically and tribally correct. You might want to go back and review your canoe, form line, painted faces, and everything else history…these are all historically and tribally CORRECT. Don’t know where you were raised, but you obviously have a chip on your shoulder for the ‘white man’. Bill Holm is a man who honors Native Americans, First Peoples, and has encouraged historical fact.
      Annie Wolf

  2. Pauline said

    WF Posey: Since you use such strong language I wonder what you find “abusive” “perverse” “imaginary” and “arrogant” in Holm’s art. Since you haven’t addressed the specifics, I mean.

    Just curious…

    • WF Posey said

      Perhaps you should actually read my comment. the images are fantasies. the clothes are not correct. In one image “raven warrior” he shows a big cedar canoe with a rifle-carrying “warrior”…there were no rifle carrying warriors in the PNW, for example. the details of his “indians” are entirely imaginary, made up, fantasy projections of what a white man thinks indians are like. the art perpetuates a horrible stereotype, even though it does so with rich colors and vivid details, it is fantasy projected onto living cultures. Holm is the darling of white people who want some sort of indian experience with art, but he is not an accurate or honest artist. Perhaps you could locate a dictionary and look up the quoted words. The art and academic worlds spend a lot of time celebrating the fantasies of ego-centric artists like this, but no time at all actually listening to or supporting real indian artists. Your lack of understanding demonstrates this very well. Holms lives and works in an ivory tower. he is well-known for his complete indifference to the words and feelings of American Indian people, the subject of his ego-maniac efforts to rewrite history and be a deciding voice on a subject for which he has no integrity at all.

      • Missy Patt said

        While he is of some value to preservation, there is also the fact that he enfringes on cultures through academia and defining what is Native art (as a non Native). I agree that this sort of privilege takes away from people that do things because it is their culture, not their academic discipline (which Natives are largely excluded from). I can see the fantasy too as being a member of one of the groups portrayed in his pictures. While they are stylistically great, they don’t look like my people, or capture even what a horse parade looks like. I prefer Marlene Spencer Simlas work or others as the culture represented belongs to her though she doe’s have the status quo describing her as ‘universally renouned’.

  3. Birdie said

    I think you mistake Bill Holm altogether; his purpose in painting these people is not to represent them pre-contact at all. I’m sure many are painted from photographs. As a painter, I’d have to say he’s an enthusiast. As a person, Bill Holm is pretty much the pan-ultimate best kind of anthropologist, a human being who makes friends and honours those friendships. In fact, maybe we’re not assessing the same person. If it’s Bill Holm of Burke Museum, you have him all wrong. He’s revered among our people, named in the ’50’s, earnest in his learning, faithfully in touch over the years. Now he’s elderly, I guess he doesn’t get around much anymore but gosh, I can’t think of anyone alive today that can say he approaches the good character of this man.

  4. Birdie said

    In academia I mean 🙂

    • Birdie said

      and I don’t see a rifle in the hands of anyone in a canoe, ‘though had there been a well-known story from our village in his mind, there well might have been. Post-contact but with canoes and mixed clothing styles and all. There’s a whaling scene, a guy with his paddle on the far side of their canoe, …? We were real then, before then and we’re real now. I think it might help you to read more about him. Painting is definitely a side issue for him, though he clearly loves it and some hangs in the Canadian Museum of Civilization – one of my greatgrandmother who with my greatgrandfather, were great friends of Bill’s, taught him string-figures, taught him a lot.

  5. Birdie said

    Oh, I see it now, missed the first picture somehow. That’s in our territory, our canoes and for sure, he was thinking of the story I mentioned. We had rifles at that point but our adversaries in the story did not.

  6. Birdie said

    LOL, well, looked like us, the canoe, even the vest. But it’s a Tlingit image ..I looked for it because it seemed to me in afterthought that the Raven Helmut was Tlingit.

  7. Thomas R. Speer said

    To “Birdie”,
    Thank you very much for speaking the truth about Bill Holm. You said it so well, and it needed to be said!
    (Would that string-figure be “Sun, Moon, and Star”?)
    The Bill Holm whom I’ve known since 1964 bears no resemblence to the remarks made by WF Posey.
    “I Raise My Hands To You, Honorable One!” Geyla kyasla!
    Member, Board of Directors
    Duwamish Tribal Services (9th term of office)
    Chief Seattle City, Washington

  8. To Mr. Posey, I just ran across this site and your comments and was flabbergasted.
    I hesitate to even honor your comments about Bill Holm. THey are so far off the mark. It’s apparent that you don’t know the man and you most assuredly do not know much about the cultures you are criticizing his knowledge about. Bill is without a doubt the pre-eminent authority on any Northwest Coast Native culture I am familiar with and I am familiar with many. He is not only a dear friend, but a
    highly valued font of information on practically anything pertaining to Northwest Coast Native culture and the art that it is part of. He is appreciated by Native people from all tribes and Non-Natives as well. The knowledge he has obtained through academic means as well as his knowledge acquired from tribal elders from all tribes on the coast he openly shares with any emerging artist, or student. I might add that one of his most endearing qualities is his genuine humility.
    You need to put your ego in a place where the sun doesn’t shine and do some research and If you hear of a good deal on a book of manners, get it!

  9. Betty said


    I am a Suquamish tribal elder and I can think of only one reply: I feel sorry you wish to show your ignorance

  10. David Stephens said

    The fact that Bill Holm is nearly universally acknowledged as the person who knows more about traditional Native culture – as a whole, and particularly certain areas – than anyone else does not prevent him from being humble. He is also remarkably generous. The more people, Indian and non-Indian, know about Bill Holm, the more respect they have for him. He has received many honors from all sorts of organizations, including Native ones. Ignore Mr. Posey‘s strange comments. Bill Holm’s paintings are rich lessons about Native culture. I encourage everyone to enjoy and learn from them.

  11. Missy Patt said

    I would personally rather see more Native Artists representing their culture. While Bill captures some accuracy, there are plenty of great artists and given the same privilege Bill has had would take it even higher if they have not already. He is teaching canoe building to rich kids this summer. He is banking off of Native culture, although I am glad that some actual Tribal people have had a good experience with him. To refer to a Native Cultural appropriations, it is the museums and anthropological societies that have largely defined what is authentic. I think saying he knows more about traditional culture as a “whole” completely diminishes the experience of the people whom’s cultures are being portrayed. Just another speed bump in the contact era.

  12. Missy Patt said

    long story short, just like lands, were taken so is art. Entitlement comes from not respecting cultures though coveting is sometime of some use given Native People are widely represented as part of the American Mystique rather than ehim, but its also come at a cost. I recognize the importance of utilizing historical information, but many of the people jumping to the defense are people that are on the fringes of Tribes, but are also new comers. I think its great to make friends, but also recognize that often times the experience of privilege overshadows the many TRUTHS Native people have to offer. Glad for those Truths the good with the not so good. Thanks all.

  13. vincenzo said

    I enjoyed reading all the interesting comments about the illustrations on the historical culture of Native Americans of the Northwest Coast, performed by the artist and Professor Bill Holm, and frankly, I must say that I agree with most critics that praise.

    I agree with the criticisms, because they seem to me to express freely and based on logical deduction, that is not influenced by the importance of the institutional and academic record-advertising, which can boast the author.

    I, not being a native American or Yankee, I would be the least appropriate to comment on a topic related to the culture of Native Americans, but like all people who love the history in the broadest sense, I’ve also read something about Native Americans, especially those few testimonials written by authors who lived at the time of first colonization of North America, which are those closest to the historical reality.

    I am of the opinion that the historical-cultural memory of the current descendants of Native Americans, during the centuries that have elapsed since the first European colonization, and the many wars that have followed, has undergone considerable changes, and therefore does not fully correspond to original traditions.

    Even the customs and ceremonies that still survive in the current tribes, in my opinion, give the idea of ​​a modern artifice, perhaps designed for curious tourists.

    And so, in my opinion, even the reconstructions proposed by eminent historians and anthropologists, based on specimens preserved in archaeological and ethnological museums should not be taken as absolute truths.

    And then, even the great academics, which are based on scientifically historical artifacts, often provide subjective reconstructions, and as such can raise many questions. But in my opinion, are not reliable even the stories of elderly natives, as has been too long. We are talking about so many centuries, not a handful of years.

    Unable to get a more comprehensive visual historical documentation, I think things are most likely the old illustrations done by American artists of the 18 th and 19 th century, including photographic documentation.

    Finally I would say that to me “Raven Warrior” has aroused the major concerns. She did not take offense to Professor Holm, but honestly, when I saw this picture, the first thing I thought was that it represented a vessel Viking.

    • vincenzo said

      To complete the comment, I would add another consideration that seems pretty important. Those who have a cultural background of the Western type, and therefore very far from that of the natives, even if they put in place all its own culture and experience, I believe that they could never fully understand or empathize with any credibility in the spirit that animates the ancient traditions of Native Americans. The risk is particularly easy in the appearance of hypocrites speculators.
      In art history we find a great example of hypocrisy, that of Paul Gauguin against the natives of French Polynesia and their original culture.

      Regardless of the fact that he was a brilliant artist, Gauguin, as a man of culture and “civilization” which, he said, wanted to live like a “wild”, becoming accepted within the indigenous community Tahitian, living with them, and describing (in its own way) daily life, customs, religious beliefs, fears, hopes, etc. .., has done a disservice to the cultural authenticity of those poor people, who, before the arrival of the colonizers ‘white’ lived happily in a kind of Eden.

      The truth, that we want to admit it or not, is that Gauguin went to live in Polynesia especially since attracted by the prospect of being able to sexually abuse, and with relative ease, beautiful native girls. In his civilized world, could not afford certain liberties, because when he finally moved to Tahiti, had now begun to decline physically, hopelessly corroded by syphilis. There he found a people finally free from sexual mores, rather, living in harmony with nature, without malice and cunning of belonging to the civilized world, as it was Gauguin. Other than living as a “primitive”!

      Finally, I simply say that Gauguin, while being a great painter, whose paintings are exhibited in major museums around the world, man would be defined as a real criminal, rather hypocritical and opportunistic.

      I say all this without neglecting the fact that Gauguin, in addition to arbitrarily make a mess of the indigenous culture, has also infected many Polynesian girls with his devastating venereal disease, which contracted in his youth in Martinique. To me, that Gauguin has done wrong to the Tahitian people and its culture, can not be balanced by the beautiful paintings that he has left us.

      Sorry for the excessive length of my comment, but I think it was necessary to focus on the real problem that occurs whenever a person of Western culture, decided to identify himself, almost cocky way, in a cultural reality that does not belong .
      So besides being in agreement with what he says WF Posey in the first comments, I also agree Patt Missy when she says that it would be preferable to have direct testimony from Native American artists.

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.

%d bloggers like this: