Snippet: Native American Art


Native American art is incredibly beautiful and unique, and has been created for hundreds of years. Typically, Native American culture stresses connection with nature, so art tends to have naturalistic themes, with plant and animal motifs. Art pieces also are often made with natural materials.

Art is incredibly important in Native American cultures and serves various purposes. These include ritualistic, decorative, religious, and functional, largely based on the artwork.

Different groups/tribes produce various types of art largely based on the area of location. The natural materials found in each region often indicate the type of art produced. For example, in Colorado, USA, Mesa Verde cliff dwellings are made of adobe (building material made of mud), which would not be possible in the cooler North. Northern tribes also tend to produce more wooden artwork due to the abundance of trees and forestry.

This snippet provides only a few examples of Native American art as an introduction. We encourage looking into other types of Indigenous art as well!

© Kristen Maxfield/National Park Service

Effigy Mounds

  • Created by the Woodland Indians, whose culture dates from 500 B.C. to 1,200 B.C

  • The Woodland Indians were a hunter and gatherer society.

  • The effigy mounds are located in parts of modern day Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Illinois and most are in national parks.

  • There is no known reason as to why the effigy mounds were created but many suspect the effigy mounds are symbols for unknown rituals.

  • Many effigy mounds are in the shape of mammals or birds.

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Pueblo Pottery

  • Pueblo pottery is one of the most highly developed forms of the Native American arts.

  • The traditional Pueblo pottery is made using a slate-like clay found within the hills surrounding the Pueblo.

  • Pueblo pots are only constructed by the women of the tribe, and are made by hand by forming clay coils upward around a flat clay base until the pot reaches a desired height. After coiling, the walls of the pots are then smoothed, decorated with geometric, floral, or animal patterns, and then fired.

© Bernard Spragg. NZ / Flickr

Totem poles

  • Created by First Nations of Pacific Northwest

  • Most developed in the past 200 years

  • Made to commemorate ancestry, past events, and people

  • Displays beings, crest animals, family lineages, and clan membership

  • Includes stylized humans, animal, and supernatural forms

  • Most 3-18 meters tall

  • Made from Western red cedar

  • Before cedar tree is harvested, many communities performed ceremonies of gratitude and respect


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