Native American Art

In essence, Native American Art is music of the earth. For instance, beads are usually carved from natural materials. Popular choices for beads are coral, turquoise, shells, copper, silver, shells, ivory, and other types of stones. Sometimes even animal bones and teeth are hollowed out to make beads. Special beads called wampum beads are used in sacred belts. They are usually made using Atlantic whelk shells or quahog shells. In the past, these sacred belts were used to sanction council proceedings and even to symbolize treaty agreements.

Just as popular as beads are feathers. Native Americans use them for featherwork. The feathers are usually large and stiff with medium flexible plumes and relatively small fluffs. These feathers are wrapped in leather, thread, or even animal hair to be attached to headgear or woven into the hair. Animal hair is also wrapped, braided, or woven into head or neck decorations. Since the eagle is thought to be the protectors of the Native Americans, eagle feathers are especially favored. However, feathers of different birds carry special meanings. For instance, owl feathers woven with hawk feathers represent life to some tribes.

Native Americans are also experts in the art of basket-making. Each basket is carefully designed and it can be used for special events such as weddings. The materials used for the baskets vary from tribe to tribe. Some tribes use pounded ash splints of braided sweet grass, while others use rivercane wicker or pine needles.

Animal bones and teeth are also sacred to Native American tribes. To the Crow, elk teeth are woven into clothes to symbolize longevity. This is simply derived from the fact that teeth remain long after the body decays.

Other than the materials used, symbols painted onto clothes and baskets and other pieces are sacred as well. For instance, the Morning Star represents courage and purity to the Great Basin tribes. To the Southwestern Indians, the Sun represents life, warmth, and growth. The Kokopelli is a very well known Native American fertility symbol that represents the seed bringer and the water sprinkler. Also familiar should be the Hand, which represents the presence of Man as well as his history and achievements. Called the "heart line," arrows symbolize direction and force as well as the life of the animal spirit.

Animals are considered symbols and this is the reason why bones or teeth are woven into clothes and used as beads. Native Americans wear parts of animals in hopes that they will be blessed with some of the animal's spirit. The Bear, which represents physical strength and leadership, is often mentioned as a "First Helper" in Native American legends. The Coyote is the trickster, an omen that something bad is going to happen. The Crane is connected with water and appears a lot in Native American pottery. The Eagle is the master of the skies and the carrier of prayers, often associated with visions and spirits.

Every single aspect of Native American art is directly affected by their culture. Nothing is ever painted or woven without a reason behind it, and that's why Native American art is so fascinating. Every art piece tells a many layered story.

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