Native American Art

There were many Native American tribes across North America. They each had their own unique culture. Many tribes developed unique art forms, as well. Since tribes were often very different from each other, their art was often very different from each other. Generally, only native societies that settled in an area for a long period of time pursued art. Tribes that moved often did not have time for creative pursuits.

Native Americans potteryOne of the most common types of art created by Native Americans was pottery. Not all tribes made pottery. The Lakota Sioux, for example, moved too often to carry around heavy pieces of pottery. Most tribes, however, made pottery for its usefulness and also because it was beautiful.

Native Americans often made pottery the same way that artists make it today. They used a spinning wheel, or they sometimes made coil and pinch pots. Many pottery pieces were decorated with important symbols, such as animals. Sometimes native pottery recorded important events in the history of a tribe.

American Art in Delaware
American Art in Delaware

In addition to pottery, Native Americans also made colorful and beautiful baskets. Basket weaving was a common pastime for native women, who spent long periods of time weaving reeds and cornhusks into detailed patterns. Baskets served a purpose, since they were used to carry vegetables and fruits. They also told a story. Like pottery, baskets could be decorated to tell about tribal leaders or even battles.

Blankets were another item made by Native Americans that was both useful and attractive. Like baskets, blankets were woven in detailed patterns and vivid colors. It might take days or even weeks to complete a blanket!

Totem poleMany native tribes also made beautiful carvings. Sometimes they carved bones or animal teeth, or even rocks. These carvings were often of animals. Perhaps the most famous of all Native American art forms was the totem pole. Totem poles were large. In fact, some are more than one hundred feet tall. Totem poles were mostly carved by native people in the Pacific Northwest and Canada.

That’s where the country’s tallest trees can be found! Totem poles were carved with many different faces. Sometimes the faces were of family members, and sometimes they were of animals. Sometimes totem poles were carved with large, protruding wings or beaks. Totem poles were even used to tell stories or to pass down legends! Imagine it….a one hundred foot-tall story book with wings and a giant beak!

In the Southwestern United States, the Navajo were famous for their sand paintings. These served a certain purpose. They were made for healing ceremonies. The Navajo believe that the paintings allow them to communicate with spirits who have the power to heal sickness. No matter how beautiful or complex they were, once the ceremony was over, the painting was destroyed. It was simply no longer needed.

Things to Remember:

• Most Native American art was useful as well as beautiful
• Most native art was made by settled tribes. Nomadic tribes were not in one place for long enough to develop creative pursuits.