Native American artforms

As it is Native American Heritage month, now is the perfect time to appreciate art forms that originate from Native American culture. Different tribes have different traditions, and while the exact origin of some traditions are not always clear, it’s still important to acknowledge the cultural significance they hold. That said, here is more information about a few interesting artforms you may have already encountered.

 

Dreamcatchers

According to online literary journal “Legomenon,” dreamcatchers, while associated with Native American culture in general, originated from the Ojibwa Chippewa tribe. The article shared that the Ojibwe word for dreamcatcher is “asabikeshiinh,” meaning “spider,” an animal which the Ojibew people considered as a symbol of protection. An Ojibawa story cited a “Spider Woman” as the tribe’s protector, and when the tribe spread too far for her to watch over, she gifted them  dreamcatchers. 

 

According to DreamCatcher.com, one should hang their dreamcatcher above where they sleep and it will catch nightmares within its web while good dreams pass through. It should be noted that dreamcatchers have been Americanized over time, meaning mass-produced or inauthentic dreamcatchers exist for sale without respect for or connection to their Native American origin.

 

Beadwork

A prominent feature of Native American Culture is beading, which includes various styles and stitchings that contribute towards clothing or jewelry. According to native-languages.org, Plains Indian beadwork is particularly well known, along with Cherokee, Shoshoni, Arapaho Tlingit and Dakota Sioux beadwork. The website also shared that Native American beads were originally hand-carved, using shells, coral, turquoise, stones, metal, wood, amber, ivory and animal horns and teeth. Eventually, colonists brought glass beads from Europe; now, glass beads are a main material for beading. 

Textiles

Native-languages.org names rugs, blankets and quilts as products of Native American weaving tradition, and it goes on to say that Navajo weaving of blankets and rugs is the most prominently known. Navajo rugs are made of wool and woven on a loom, featuring complex geometric patterns. Other traditions include finger weaving, with Tlingit chilkat blankets being a prime example, and star quilting, carried out by the Sioux tribes.

 

All of these artforms are culturally significant and require a great deal of skill. With this information, you may be able to recognize how some of these art forms are mimicked, muddling their significance and neglecting Native American contribution to the art world.

Photo: A. Wagne

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