|Native American Art
Includes Water, Oil and Sand Painting,
Leather, Wood, Pottery and Baskets.
Native American creativity is boundless
and sacred. Artistic expression has been
a way to worship the gods. Art for
art's sake is not part of the Indian
psyche. Their artistic designs have
beauty and care motivated by their love
Sacred beliefs of American Indians hold
that everything living or inanimate shares
a place in the universe, and that no one
thing is above the other. They were the
first ecologically aware people anywhere,
long before pollution became a serious
and popular issue.
Native Americans were also the first to
create implements with beauty, and each
native art object they made had a
specific purpose. Animals they killed
were for clothing, tools and food, never
A natural beauty and obvious appreciation for nature permeates their Indian pottery,
paintings, baskets, leather work, sand paintings, crafts, moccasins and wood carving.
Native Americans created many shapes and geometric designs for their art and these were
repeated and became representative symbols that transcended tribal language barriers.
Native art designs became a language in themselves, a form of communication. The harmony
and oneness sensed in their art is real, and it provides serenity to those who experience it.
We hope you enjoy our collection of Native American artwork, which is beautiful and
expressive of all Native American art.
|OVERVIEW OF NATIVE AMERICAN ART: PAINTING, BASKETS, CARVING, POTTERY, RUGS
The great varieties of beautiful and innovative art works in all Native American art traditions span
many centuries and various internal and external pressures.
The development of the Native American art of painting, carving, and basket-making differed
depending on the environment and type of subsistence of each Indian tribe.
Hunting tribes such as the Apache and Sioux did not stay in one place long enough to develop elaborate
methods and Native American art designs for the jars and food containers they utilized in ceremonies
or for daily use.
The needed to move frequently in order to follow the wildlife and ripening of wild plants kept many
Native American tribes from artistic endeavors that would require them to carry non-essential art
objects as they moved to a different hunting ground.
In addition to their beauty, the native art, pots and figurines made by the Southwestern Indians
have many stories to tell, for the story of Pueblo ceramics is also one of trade, conquest, proximity
to American cities and railroad lines, remaining in one area for long periods, and the shifting
inter-village Indian relationships during the past two-thousand years.
Crosscurrents of exchange and communication among many Native American peoples are visible in
their ceramics and other art forms. So is the influence visible in their art works of the Trading Post
and the tourists who flocked there to buy Native American art, and shaped its development.
Encroachment and Persecution Changed Many Native American Art Forms
Native American tribes in the Southwest remained in the same area for hundreds, if not thousands
of years. They had learned how to grow what they needed centuries before many other Native
American tribes. This enabled them to build on the native art done by previous generations, and to
establish a visible history of the development of their creative art forms.
Some Native American tribes, who had been forcibly transplanted to reservations, could not continue
using their traditional agriculture, nor create jars, baskets or other elaborate art forms they had
Did the Lakota Sioux make Indian pottery?
Answer: Lakota Sioux Native Americans did produce native pottery, basketry, and wood carvings,
they became a nomadic tribe. In the 18th century, they had abandoned their traditional farming
customs in favor of a nomadic, horse oriented culture. This precluded making Native American art
which could not be transported as they moved with the buffalo herds.
Rather than develop their abilities in the usual native art pursuits of basketry and jar making, Lakota
artists concentrated on painting elaborate leather designs on buffalo skins. Following a buffalo hunt,
they removed the meat for food, bones for making implements and skin to make tipis on which they
painted their Native art designs. Sioux Native American art had evolved to fit their new lifestyle.
The Southeastern, Eastern Woodland, and Great Basin Native American tribes had extensive
development of their clay and basketry arts. They could freely develop their native art designs and
the firing and finishing techniques used to create colorful, long-lasting artistic jars. The Native art of
weaving a basket became complex and had elaborate artistic weave patterns, and the materials used
became longer lasting and more beautiful.
Interestingly, none of the Native American artistic tribes used spinning or ceramic wheels to create
their art. As an alternative, Native artists made coil and pinch pots by hand just as they do today.
Polished Native American plain-wares, or everyday pots in red and black also have been part of the
repertoire throughout the history of clay ceramics in Southwestern Native American tribes.
Southwestern Indian Pottery
Native American art production was largely governed by environmental conditions. The Southwestern
Indian adaptation to this arid environment governed their Native American art production and
lifestyle. They were sedentary, lived in cool adobe homes, and could make heavy pottery from clay soil
and delicate kachina native art and baskets, because they did not need to carry it from place to place.
They farmed the land planting corn and raising livestock for food and could survive by staying in one
area. This gave them more leisure time to be very artistic people. Southwestern Native Americans
produced beautiful pottery, weaved baskets, blankets, rugs and painted kiva walls.
The southwestern area today is a magnet for Native American art and artistic peoples from all
cultures. Archaeological evidence shows that these southwestern tribes have always been open to new
Native art designs and cultural influences.
Development of Native Pottery in the Southwestern Indian Tribes
Conclusions Have Changed as New Discoveries Bring Insight into Southwestern Indian Pottery
An important archaeological excavation site of the early Pueblo Indians, ancestors of the Hopi Indian,
has given us insight into the Native Americans living in the southwest today. The nature of their
society and obvious openness to new ideas has brought admiration and attention to these early
ancestors, as well as an understanding of southwestern Native American art development in general.
Called "Pottery Mound," the discoveries at the early Indian “Pottery Mound” site has the greatest
variety in Indian pottery styles of any excavation in the U.S. This shows us that these particular
Southwestern Native Americans were open to new ideas and freely intermingled cultural elements
from different pueblo areas.
Most interesting, is the fact that they also encouraged early American and European influences to
merge with their Native American art styles, including those of their traditional baskets, kiva wall
paintings, and native pottery.
New research puts the important “Pottery Mound” excavation site back into the center of current
scholarship and debate on the history of the late pre-contact Pueblo and the development of
southwestern native pottery and native art. It should also influence views on the origins of the
famous Sikyatki Indian pottery style.
Based on the Native pottery found and dated at the excavation site, “Pottery Mound” appears to have
been occupied from around AD 1375 to 1475, during a period of dramatic tribal reorganization and
social change in the southwestern Pueblo tribes.
This early southwestern Native Pottery Mound civilization was located in the lower valley of the Rio
Puerco of the East, on the frontier between the Pueblo communities of the Hopi, Zuni, and Acoma on
the West and the Rio Grande Pueblos to the East.
This eclectic funnel seems to have influenced the development of the famous Sikyatki style of
Indian pottery. Excavations at this early Indian “Pottery Mound” site have brought up a large
quantity of artifacts containing the Sikyatki style in kiva murals and on Indian pottery.
The Sikyatki style is a name given to Native American art objects found at a large excavation site
near Sikyatki, an ancient village located on the First Mesa. Sikyatki pottery typically has black
and red on yellow colors with feather and birds, flowers, butterflies kachinas and tapering spirals.
This openness to the cultural and artist influences of other cultures is visible in specific features of
Indian pottery technology, styles and the symbolic representations incorporated into their native
pottery, kiva art murals and other painted ceramics.
Excavations at “Pottery Mound” have shown us that just prior to European contact, many tribes
within the southwest have converged on the area of the early Indian “Pottery Mound” civilization.
When this occurred, Indian pottery and other native art styles were freely intermingled.
Glaze A pottery was found in abundance at “Pottery Mound.” Both Hopi pottery was imported to the
area. Both decorated and plain wares were found, as well as white paste pottery from the Acuma and
Zuni tribes and biscuit pottery from New Mexico’s north-central areas.
When the Europeans and early Americans drifted into the area, the pueblo tribes incorporated the
art styles and technical elements into kiva architecture and mural paintings and glaze-painted Indian
This swing to American and European influence on Pueblo Native American art reflects the presence
of Western immigrants and their descendants at this early Indian “Pottery Mound” village.
Importantly, research on the artifacts at this site shows that these southwestern Indian tribes did
not merely copy the styles of other culture, but synthesized all influences to create a unique style of
Southwestern Indian Sand Painting
The Navajo are known for their beautiful sand paintings, which are created from images stored in
the collective memories of their traditional healers. These memories have been passed down many
generations from previous healers who were charged with making sand paintings for ceremonial
healing purposes. The Navajo have created this ceremonial native art to heal the sick for hundreds of
years. Sand paintings are used during healing ceremonies as a means to communicate with the Spirits
who are thought to have power to cure illnesses.
Why did the Navajo destroy their own sand paintings?
Beautiful Native American art created in sand was always destroyed following the healing ritual.
The Navajo view of this temporary nature of their work is evident in the Navajo word for ceremonial
sand paintings. They call it Iikhááh, which translates to "they enter and leave."
During a healing ceremony, the sand painting is aligned with the entryway of the ceremonial Hogan,
which always faces east. Through this design the yéii (spirits) can enter and leave the ceremony.
The core of every healing ceremony is the Navajo ideal of beauty, harmony, and wellbeing and they
call this Hózhó. The goal of each healing ceremony is to bring the patient back into hózhó, or harmony.
During the ceremony the patient internalizes the image of hózhó represented in the sand paintings
used in healing ceremonies, and experiences their design as a spiritual mandalla in terms of which
physical recovery can take place.
When the healing ritual is finished the native sand art is traditionally destroyed because it is no
longer needed. However, by 1950 the Navajo learned to glue the design to a board to market at
trading posts, a practice that continues today. Fortunately, the economic value of selling sand
paintings has preserved much of its beauty for all to enjoy.
Native American Painting
Native Americans did not fully develop painting methods until the early 1900s, when outside
pressures caused them to adopt Western painting techniques. The term "Traditional style" has been
applied to a genre of painting that emerged between the end of the nineteenth century and the years
preceding World War II. It refers to the native art of the first generations that recognized
themselves as the originators of a new means of creative expression, regarded as such by the patrons
and institutions that offered them support.
The earliest watercolor painting is attributed to artists from the Pueblos of New Mexico's Upper
Rio Grande, belonging to a period that extends from about 1900 to 1930. Young Pueblo men were
trained to create beautiful Native art at the famous "Studio" located in the Santa Fe Indian School.
The school was supervised by Dorothy Dunn, who founded the program in 1932 and remained its
guiding force for the next five years. Dunn's influence is regarded as having fully realized the
characteristics of the Native American painting style, as well as assuring its widespread
dissemination and commercial success.
Young people from many tribes converged on Santa Fe seeking to study with Dunn, who offered the
only official training program in the visual arts designed for Native Americans at that time. Many
continued to practice the methods she advocated throughout their lives and encouraged the growth
of a later phase of Traditional painting that still has considerable popularity today.
The roots of traditional Native American painting can be traced to several points of origin. The first
coherent paintings by Native Americans in the Southwest were created almost simultaneously by
artists who worked in separate locations and belonged to different tribes. Most were from the
Tewa-speaking Pueblos in the vicinity of Santa Fe, including Alfredo Montoya, Crescencio Martinez,
Awah Tsireh (Alfonso Roybal), and Julian Martinez, husband of the famous artist María of San
Ildefonso. Fred Kabotie and Otis Polelonema were Hopi students whose interest in painting grew
under the encouragement of Elizabeth DeHuff, whose husband, John DeHuff, was superintendent of
the Santa Fe Indian School from 1918 to 1926.
The most frequent subjects of traditional painting are ceremonial, with many examples illustrating
the cycle of semi-sacred dances observed by the Hopi and New Mexico Pueblos that are open to
public viewer-ship. More esoteric ceremonials that may not be attended by those outside the
community are rarely depicted in Traditional native art. The Pueblo works typically represent aspects
of the complex line dances performed in each village's central plaza, rituals designed to reinforce a
harmonious relationship with nature and the internal social balance of the tribe.
Most paintings that date from 1917 to 1925 concern such religious themes, although the subsequent
decade saw the growth of a style that was more secular and pictorial in concept. Genre subjects
began to appear in Pueblo watercolors by 1925, establishing a precedent for the many scenes of
nature and home and village life that would later be produced by studio-trained artists.
Earlier compositions generally situated either a single figure or rows of dancers against a blank,
undifferentiated ground. Later painting might include more complex figural groupings and stylized
geometric motifs to suggest details of landscape and setting. The artists used outlines to define the
contours of human, animal, and decorative forms, filling them with washes of uniform color. Shading
to suggest the effects of light and shadow is absent from most compositions or used sparingly to
create subtle three-dimensional effects.
Depth and perspective were limited to occasional uses of overlapping and foreshortening, while the
arrangement of elements in the picture plane served as the principal means for distinguishing
between objects in the foreground and middle ground. The formal conventions of Traditional native
art deny or minimize illusionist space, instead arranging forms distinguished by shape and color within
a shallow pictorial zone.
Tourist art had some influence on Native American art styles, being shaped by the beliefs,
expectations, and motivations of consumers and trading post people who sold early works.
Traditional Native American painting, along with early experimental Native American artworks mixed
with the manipulations and rewards of an external market to create beautiful, unique designs.
Happily, Native American artists of the early 20th century turned to non-Western subjects to
frame allegories that reflected the culture and symbols. Their Native art began to include
scenes of Indian domestic life, craft activities, and agriculture to the delight of all observers.
The lingering models of Native American traditional painting as the embodiment of tourist-oriented
stereotypes have begun to be displaced in recent years by the new artistic frontiers that Native
American artists have embraced. Copyright 2010