Author Tags: Anthropology, Art, First Nations

Born in 1896, Erna Gunther studied with Franz Boas prior to her graduation from Columbia University in New York in 1920. Her husband Leslie Spier, who had also studied with Boas, preceded her as director of the Washington State Museum. She began her fieldwork among the Coast Salish, the Kallah and Makah peoples, studying their rituals pertaining to salmon. This resulted in her article 'An analysis of the first salmon ceremony' (Lancaster, American Anthropologist, 1926) and was followed by an investigation of the Indian Shaker Church. When her husband left the University of Washington in 1930, she remained and pursued fieldwork among the Coast Salish, Kallah and Makah. Her most popular book was Ethnobotony of Western Washington (1945) in which she described and documented how Aboriginals have used local flora and fauna. As a result of her influence in this area, the Erna Gunther Ethnobotanical Garden was founded in Seattle in 1984. Gunther became increasingly interested in art objects from the 1950s onwards. When the Seattle World's Fair was held in 1962, Erna Gunther was called upon to organize the indigenous art exhibit, having served as director of the Washington State Burke Museum for 31 years. “This exhibition was one of many which she planned and prepared,” says Bill Holm, “and which are now recognized as a primary factor in the worldwide recognition of Northwest Coast Indian Art.” Gunther was also an anthropologist at the University of Washington for six decades and its chairman from 1930 to 1955. In 1971, the Washington State Historical Society accorded her its highest honour, the Robert Gray Medal. She died in 1982, having published 15 books and catalogues.


Gunther, Erna & Karl Hermann Haeberlin. Ethnographische Notizen über die Indianerstämme des Puget-Sundes (Berlin: Zeitschrift für Ethnologie, 1924).

Gunther, Erna. Klallam Folk Tales (University of Washington Press, 1925).

Gunther, Erna. Klallam Ethnography (University of Washington Press, 1927).

Gunther, Erna. A Further Analysis of the First Salmon Ceremony (University of Washington Press, 1928).

Gunther, Erna & Karl Hermann Haeberlin. The Indians of Puget Sound (University of Washington press, 1930).

Lindquist, Gustavus Elmer Emanuel. The Indian in American Life (New York: Friendship Press, 1944). With Erna Gunther, John H. Holst and Flora Warren Seymour.

Gunther, Erna. Ethnobotany of Western Washington: The Knowledge and Use of Indigenous Plants by Native Americans (University of Washington Press, 1945, 1973).

Gunther, Erna. Indians of the Northwest Coast (Taylor Museum of the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center/Seattle Art Museum, 1952).

Gunther, Erna. Northwest Coast Indian Art: An Exhibit at Seattle's World Fair Fine Arts Pavilion, April 21-October 21 (Seattle World’s Fair, 1962).

Gunther, Erna. Art in the Life of the Northwest Coast Indians, with a catalogue of the Rasmussen collection of Northwest Indian art at the Portland Art Museum (Portland Art Museum, 1966).

Gunther, Erna. Viewer's Guide to an Academic Detective (University of Washington, 1966).

Gunther, Erna. Indian Life on the Northwest Coast of North America, As Seen by the Early Explorers and Fur Traders During the Last Decades of the Eighteenth Century (University of Chicago Press, 1972; 1975).

Gunther, Erna. A Catalogue of the Ethnological Collections in the Sheldon Jackson Museum (Sitka, Alaska: Sheldon Jackson College, 1976).

Gunther, Erna (translator). Alaskan Voyage, 1881-1883: An Expedition to the Northwest Coast of America, by Johan Adrian Jacobsen (University of Chicago Press, 1977). From the German text of Adrian Woldt.

Gunther, Erna. Design Units on Tlingit Baskets (Sitka, Alaska: Sheldon Jackson Museum, 1990).

[Alan Twigg / BCBW 2005] "Art" "Anthropology" "First Nations"