Skylight: The Sun, Moon and Stars in Northwest Coast Art


With a major lunar eclipse on the way on Sunday/Monday, January 21st, it’s the perfect time to turn our attention to the skies overhead. The eclipse is the confluence of three major events: a “blood moon” (where the moon turns a coppery color); a total lunar eclipse (where the planet’s shadow completely envelops our satellite); and a Super Moon (where the moon appears much larger than normal). There are actually three Super Moons in early 2019: Sunday/Monday January 20/21; Tuesday February 19; Thursday & March 21.

To celebrate all of this celestial activity, we’re spotlighting works in the gallery that focus on the sun, moon and stars. Many of these pieces will reference the most famous myth on the Coast, of Raven stealing the light. Though it has many permutations and the details change depending on the telling, the basic story tells of how the world was in darkness and Raven–through many trials and clever schemes–finds a way to free it. Raven steals the light–sometimes referring to the sun, other times the sun, moon and stars–and releases, drops, or throws it into the sky where it remains to this day. To read more about this myth, scroll below!

Exhibition Dates:

January 15, 2019 - February 28, 2019

Featured Works

Raven and the Box of Daylight Retold by Preston Singletary (Tlingit)

The most well-recognized Tlingit story of is that of the Theft of Daylight, in which Raven steals the stars, the moon, and the sun from Naas-sháki Yéil or Naas-sháki Shaan, the Old Man at the Head of the Nass River. The Old Man is very rich and owns three legendary boxes that contain the stars, the moon, and the sun; Raven wants these for himself. Various reasons are given as to why Raven wants the light; such as wanting to admire himself in the light, wanting all living creatures to admire his works, and wanting light to find food easily.

Raven transforms himself into a hemlock needle and drops into the water cup of the Old Man’s daughter while she is out picking berries. She becomes pregnant with him and gives birth to him as a baby boy. The Old Man dotes over his grandson, as is the wont of most Tlingit grandparents.

Raven cries incessantly until the Old Man gives him the Box of Stars to pacify him. Raven plays with it for a while, then opens the lid and lets the stars escape through the chimney into the sky. Later Raven begins to cry for the Box of the Moon, and after much fuss the Old Man gives it to him but not before stopping up the chimney. Raven plays with it for a while and then rolls it out the door, where it escapes into the sky. Finally Raven begins crying for the Box of the Sun, and after much fuss finally the Old Man breaks down and gives it to him. Raven knows well that he cannot roll it out the door or toss it up the chimney because he is carefully watched. So he finally waits until everyone is asleep and then changes into his bird form, grasps the sun in his beak and flies up and out the chimney. He takes it to show others who do not believe that he has the sun, so he opens the box to show them and then it flies up into the sky where it has been ever since.

More on the eclipse, from PopularMechanics, with all times translated to PST:

“The wind-up to the eclipse is long, starting at about 7:36 p.m (Pacific) on January 20 when the first hints of the eclipse will start to hit the moon. This is called the penumbral eclipse, and involves a slight darkening of the moon’s surface in preparation for the rest of the total eclipse. The first portion of the partial eclipse phase will begin less than an hour later, at 8:33 p.m. The total eclipse phase will begin at 9:41 pm. The moon will be in a total eclipse for a little more than an hour, turning an orange-red thanks to the shadow cast by Earth. It will reach “maximum eclipse” at 10:12 pm. It will then enter another partial phase, lasting until 11:50 pm. The last shadows will leave the moon at 12:48 a.m.”