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Your Weekly Inspiration: Native American Art

Native American art is rich in color, texture, and meaning, with a style all its own. It’s a great source of inspiration, in any medium.

To begin with “native american” is too broad a term; each tribe has its own unique materials, patterns, colors, stories, and visual styles. The pieces were traditionally almost always functional as well as decorative, with incredibly embellished clothing, baskets, bowls, architecture, jewelry, and more. It’s worth a much deeper dive than I will do here.

For my inspiration today, I am struck by the strong shapes and organic forms in these pieces.

Stepped Key Pattern: this basket

19th century Tohono O’odham basket, in the collection of the Eiteljorg Museum

I love the high contrast lines and shapes in this basket. It’s a stunning display of weaving technique, and the pattern enhances and emphasizes the shape of the basket itself, calling attention to its lines and curves. Gorgeous!

Throw for a Curve: this pot

Hopi Clay Pot by Cheryl Naha Nampeyo, available at SilverTQ

Again, I am loving the high-contrast, bold lines in the design, and those incredible curves and sharp points. This design tells a story, with the wonderful exaggerated, expressive pose and face of this… it must be a cat, right?

The King of them All: Thunderbird Transformation Mask

I have always been fascinated by Haida transformation masks. These masks have an elaborate “outer” mask, and then the wearer pulls a string, and the mask opens to reveal a face within.

Thunderbird Transformation Mask by Art Thompson, at the Stonington Gallery

These masks have a central place in native dances and rituals of the Pacific Northwest, where they symbolize the journey between the natural and supernatural realms. They are also a rich source of inspiration for contemporary native artists, because they indicate change, the hidden, the bridging of worlds… there is rich material to unpack there.

For me, again, I love these shapes and colors. I also love art that moves and changes, and am attracted to the mask-within-a-mask motif. I would love to explore these concepts more in my own art, assuming I can do so respectfully and without too much cultural appropriation.

Native American art is rich in meaning and symbolism, bold and creative in execution, and diverse in media. It’s a fantastic source of inspiration for any crafter, no matter what you work with.

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