Native American Art


Hopi pot, attributed to Nampeyo, ca 1930

I find myself compelled to learn something about Native American art. The passing of Russell Means struck me very hard. I was once a fervent fan of the troublemakers who attempted at Wounded Knee to bring the nation’s attention back to a people to whom we owe so very much. Yet, here I was decades later as ignorant as I’d been all those years before.

Northern Cheyenne dress

I can share a few things I know about Native Americans. I know that art applied to every aspect of their lives, and most of it bore religious significance.  Designs on pots and blankets hearken back to tales of creation and spirits and the promise of the world to come. I know that life itself was so precious and valued that nearly every tribe embraced the things of the earth and the life that moved upon its surface with no sense of entitlement or dominion, but with a keen sense of their place within the body of a gigantic engine. They were a people of titanic courage who might yet approach a mouse with caution for powerful spirits lurked everywhere and if life taught them anything, it was that it paid to be humble.

woman’s boot style mocassins, ca 1915 cheyenne

Last Lakota Horse Raid, Lakota Doll, Rhonda Holy Bear, artist ,

Spirits live even in the work of our hands. Any regular museum goer can attest to having from time to time felt an odd premonition that just beyond the next corner lies a thing of power and significance and life. I am convinced that much art, particularly pottery, still exists today because it calls to us and requires our attention and protection. And we provide it because it magically makes us feel better. We are rubbing noses with a spirit on another plane. We feel the promise of eternity and simplicity, of spiritual peace.

Lakota dress, unknown artist, the beadwork tells the story of creation

I have not paid attention as I should, and so I commit now to look at this art with fresher eyes. In the meanwhile, here are some pieces to look at. They are all curious and beautiful. I cannot wait to find out what they will teach me.

Anything is possible.

possibles bag, Cheyenne

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5 Responses to Native American Art

  1. Pat Snyder says:

    These are beautiful. I’d love to have a cotton copy of the Last Lakota Horse Race. What intrigues me most is the possibles bag. Pick that up every morning and your day is made.

    • foxpudding says:

      The name comes from European mountain men, but it is probable Amerindians were using these long before white folk showed up. The interesting thing is how very little the design for a nice, smart bag has changed over time. Remember, too, that Tonto carried one as well. In last week’s Stan Freberg clip you can see him grabbing Jeno’s Pizza Rolls to put in his possibles bag. Interesting that it come up twice together like that. Love me some serendipity.

  2. I love the name of the possibles bag and can imagine what would go in one. I have always been amazed at their bead work.

    • foxpudding says:

      A lot of the bead work is simply miraculous. It also drives the value in many of these pieces. My favorite Indian art form is sand painting, but it is itself a highly religious, ritual act and I want to understand it better and think about it more before I try to write about my reactions to it.

  3. Pingback: Native American Picture Book of the Day Exploration | PragmaticMom

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