I so love the American Indian approach to art. They do not consider art as merely aesthetic in value something to hang on a wall and glance at periodically. Rather, art is a priceless tool in and very important element in their lives. Art is ritual indispensable which envelopes the concept of nature and their own life intertwined and working together. A oneness to everything important and valuable in life.
Native American sand paintings, though beautiful and created by very talented individuals, were never meant to be hung upon a wall. The painting was created for a specific purpose or ritual and disposed of when the ceremonies were completed. Why? The remains held the sickness or evil spirits that created dysfunction. The sand must be returned to the earth where it rightfully belong. A ceremony can take up to twelve hours from the initiation of creating the sand painting to its destruction. The Shaman never wrote down his processes. Rather he transferred in to future Shaman by word of mouth. All is sacred.
A special wedding vase is created with beautiful colorized patterns etched in. This will have two spouts from which to drink. The couple will drink from either side to symbolize their individuality and their unity. The vase is made to hold a liquid for a very short period of time during the wedding ceremony. The vase is promptly dried after its one and only use. It will never be used again as a container for fluids as it will be destroyed.
It was the Pueblo tribe that originally created sand painting for their ceremonies. Although other tribes adopted this process, only the Navajo tribe maintains sand painting to this day.
Bead work is another beautiful creation by Native Americans. It wasn’t just beautiful but beading was considered a sacred task. In some tribes, only woman were allowed to create the beads. Many different techniques were used to work a bead which included a stone drill bit manipulated y hand or simply an awl to drill holes for stringing. A wide array of materials were used including bones, wood, semiprecious stones, animal teeth, animal horns, copper, silver, amber, coral and shells. Materials used all depended on where the tribe lived and what was readily available for use. These materials were easily carved and shaped with what tools they had available at the time.
Beads were used for a variety of reasons, i.e. rites of passage, ceremonies, identification of totems, etc. Some tribes had what were called ‘story beads’. This was a necklace with flat turquoise stones with various other beed interspersed. Upon these turquoise stones, various figures and symbols were engraved that illustrated stories of importance. The necklaces and their stories were handed from one generation to another, a indestructible history book so to say.
Beads had been around for centuries prior to European settlers arriving in America. The Native Americans implemented their beads as items for trade with the settlers. In turn, the settlers introduced Native Americans to the glass bead which they highly prized as they had never seen glass before. Unfortunately, wampum became so abundant making beads less and less of value for trading.
Clothing was made of animal hides for which they had to hunt and work before it was a workable piece of material. There was a lot of physical effort and care taken with their clothing. They did not have the fabrics European settlers had available. Each piece of clothing could be worn for years. That one single dress a woman had was meticulous decorated with a purpose. The designs indicated her marital status, the prowess of her father or husband, and various other important facts about her life. Sometimes clothing was adorned with certain beading to indicate more fully the major aspects of importance in her life. Many dresses were painted upon with raw materials such as clays, berries, algae, flowers, bark, etc. All colors had specific meanings to refine messages and purposes. Certain colors were connected to the gods calling upon their power. Each color was assigned to a direction north, south, east or west connecting them to the spirits that reside in that direction.
Color Materials Used
- Blue sunflower seeds, larkspur petals, alfalfa flowers
- Black bark from mahogany, dogwood, alder bark, hickory, grapes
- Brown walnut shells, birch bark
- Purple blueberries, raspberries, blackberries
- Yellow goldenrod, sunflower petals, marigold petals, peach leaves
- Red beets, cranberries, sumac berries, dogwood bar
- Green moss, algae, juniper berries, lily of the valley leaves.
- Blue feminine, moon light, thunder, sadness, sky, water
- Black male, underworld, night, cold, disease, death
- Yellow sun, day, dawn
- White winter, death
- Red sunset, thunder, blood, earth, war, day wounds
- Green plants, earth, summer, rain
Some of the above color meanings may vary from tribe to tribe thus relating further information about the origins of an individual. Clothing, colors, beads, everything in the life of a Native American speaks a message for all to see. Nothing was without meaning grounded in daily spiritual life. Their many totems and face paints reflect the very same roots.
This is just the tip of the iceberg. Below are articles from which I got information but contain bundles more with more links for you to follow. Native Americans were truly inspired by Mother Nature and are a magnificent mouthpiece for respect of her many gifts of nature. Their culture is incredibly rich and full of wonderful meaning.
Learn More —
- Native American Sand Painting
- Native American Ceremonies
- Native American Denver Art Museum
- Native American Beads
- Native American Beads and Their Worth
- Native American Beads Represent Many Things
- Native American Clothing
- Native American Clothing Messages
- Native American Making Colors and Meaning
- Native AmericanTotems and Face Paint
- Native American Face Paint
“In the presence of nature, a wild delight runs through the man, in spite of real sorrows. Nature says, — he is my creature, and maugre all his impertinent griefs, he shall be glad with me”
― Ralph Waldo Emerson,
Nature is a magnificent tool despite all our woes and errors it will cheer us and revive us. Inspire yourself with Mother Nature.