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Each person invited to a Potlatch received gifts related to their social rank.
While some copper came from local sources, most came from whaling ships, both as cargo brought in for trade and as scrap peeled from the hulls of wrecked ships.
The goal of most of this rich art was the exaltation of the individual—more specifically, a wealthy village chief or a great noble, for the society was based on a class system.
Part of the insignia of social position was the accumulation of wealth, and objets d’art were an important part of that wealth.
With the coming of the Euro-Americans, who coveted the rich furs of the region, the control of the great fishing areas and strategic position of the Northwest Coast tribes enabled them to acquire staggering wealth in an extremely brief space of time.
The existence of an Indian purchasing class, with its ever-increasing need for impressive possessions, created a supplier: the professional artist.
These are the people who were responsible for the familiar black “slate carvings,” which are actually made of Tsimshian, who lived upriver from the Tlingit, is perhaps slightly less well known, due largely to the smaller population and their more remote interior location.