Arts and Crafts

American Indian Crafts, Customs and Culture

Not only the objects themselves, but the ideas and emotions that arise from the making and studying of Native American Arts and Crafts, from holding them, touching them, to passing on the stories behind their creation, give them value.

These ideas and emotions fulfill endless human needs – to connect to the raw materials of the earth, to respect and honor ancestral tradition, and to experience the continuity of life and the spirit.

We must understand the legacy of what native american arts and crafts stand for and are – – an all-encompassing expression of the best that is human.

The oldest known art found in North America dates back to approximately 11,000 BC. A bone with the image of a mammoth carved in it was discovered in Florida.

The arts and crafts of the American Indian are among the great traditions of the world. The thread that runs through the folk art of all peoples is a significant one.
Native American Indian Art Types

Pottery (Ceramics) – As with a lot of Indian art, pottery served both a functional and decorative purpose. Traditionally, pottery was used for storing such things as food, water, and valuables such as beads. The Indians also created pots for cooking. However, beyond its functional purposes pottery has been used for artistic expression and painted with beautiful designs and colors.

Baskets – Baskets are one of the oldest art forms of American Indians; some have been discovered dating back nearly eight thousand years. The styles, weaving techniques, and materials vary greatly among the different tribes and American Indian regions.

Masks – Masks were often used in tribal ceremonies and are some of the finest examples of Indian art. Examples are the kachina masks created by the Pueblo Indians. These wooden masks are used in their traditional ceremonies and regarded as living spirits. The Iroquois also create masks for use in ceremonies.

Totem Poles – Perhaps the most striking forms of Indian art are totem poles. These wooden sculptures are often huge some standing up to 40 feet high. They represent the history of a family or clan, represented by their clan or personal totems. The “low man” on a totem pole was actually the most important man in that clan.

Dolls – The most famous Native American dolls are the kachina dolls of the Hopi Indians. These dolls depict the spiritual beings the Hopi worship. Plains tribes made the no face doll as a toy for children. Southwestern tribes make ceramic storyteller dolls. Collectors also collect baby dolls in native American style clothing.

Paintings – Indians have traditionally painted numerous items such as pottery, tipis, clothing, shields, and cave walls. The Navajo tribe’s sand paintings, used in their religious ceremonies, are an excellent example of American Indian painting.

Jewelry – Native American jewelry was worn as adornment and sometimes for protection. Materials used to create jewelry included materials like turquoise, copper, bone, shells, teeth, claws and stone.

The famous silver jewelry of the Navajo, Hopi, and other Pueblos is a fairly recent invention developed specifically for the tourist trade.

The different tribes have different customs in regards to who made and wore jewelry. For example in the Navajo tribe it was usually the men who made jewelry.

Beadwork – Numerous American Indian tribes create beautiful beadwork, perhaps the best know are those of the Great Plains Indians.

Native Americans originally used natural materials for their beads carved by hand such as nuts,shells, turquoise, wood, animal bones, animal horns, and animal teeth. 

Before Europeans started trading with the Indians and glass beads became available, porcupine quillwork and appliques were common. Beadwork with tiny seed beads largely replaced those earlier forms of decoration.

Ceremonial Objects & Tools – Items used for personal protection or in ceremonies, such as the regalia for pow wow dances, medicine bags, medicine bundles, dance sticks, coup sticks, spirit chasers, trail markers, talking sticks, and dream catchers, or tools such as bow & arrows, tomahawks, painted parfletches, and knives, are popular with collectors for use as home décor focus points.

Rugs – The Navajo, as well as some of the Pueblo tribes, are famous for their hand woven rugs.