IACA Journal Fall 2013 - page 12

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IACA Journal | Fall 2013
The history and development of the Native peoples of North
America follows other ancient cultures all over the world. In all
societies, the prime objective was to provide food, shelter and
clothing – the necessities of life. To do this, Native Americans
used the resources around them: Buffalo, deer and other land
and ocean animals provided meat for food, hides for clothing
and shelter, and bones, antlers and tusks for weapons, tools, and
many other uses; plants were used for food, making baskets, and
providing medicines and dyes; natural minerals were also put to
use for making clay pots, dyes and metalwork.
The arrival and spread of Europeans
throughout North America had an effect
on Native peoples in numerous well-
known ways, many detrimental to tribal
society. However, the Europeans also
brought new materials that were adopted
by indigenous artisans, and during the
late 19th century and early 20th century,
a rapid demand grew for Native art-
work due to the spread of tourism and a
fascination with Native culture. Popular
entertainment featuring stylized versions
of “The Wild West” also spurred the de-
mand for Native-made art and artifacts.
Basket weaving is one of the oldest
known Native American crafts; styles,
materials, colors and designs vary across
tribes and regions as much today as they
did hundreds of years ago. The Onei-
da people of the Northeast show one
example of how function has become art.
As their lands were taken away and their
way of life shattered, new ways needed
to be found for the tribe to survive. One
way was to make simple woodsplint bas-
kets to sell to non-Natives. Over time,
influences from other tribes introduced
patterns made from paint or potato
stamps, the use of bright colors, and
making patterns using wide and narrow
rows of colored weaving materials. As
more non-Native people traveled in the
region, Oneida baskets changed in the
19th century to make them more appeal-
ing to tourist consumers: shapes became
smaller and more detailed; grasses were
used instead of woodsplints; and decora-
tions were added. Contemporary basket
The Heritage of Art
Life, of course, was very hard and a constant struggle for survival. Tribal existence was
based on the seasonal flow and growth of animals and plants; food gathered during
certain times of the year would have to be stored for months, and seeds stored until the
next growing season. Throughout North America, tribal peoples developed containers
for storage. At first these storage vessels were purely utilitarian – plain and function-
al, made to do nothing more than hold water, grain, seeds, and a variety of foods. But
even these plain vessels varied from region to region and from tribe to tribe, depending
on the type of clay used for pots or the grasses or reeds used for baskets. The color of
natural clay varies from almost pure white to darkest gray and black, with all shades of
yellow, orange and red in between. Some clay sparkles with tiny flakes of mica. Even
grasses and plants used in basketry were a variety of natural colors. For example, the
long, hooked seed pods of the plant known as “devil’s claw” is almost black and is still
used today in baskets made by the Tohono O’odham of Arizona.
As time passed, these utilitarian objects became decorated and embellished – again us-
ing natural elements. Plants and minerals were used to make dyes, hides were decorated
with feathers, flattened porcupine quills and shell beads, and decorative carving was
done on bones, antlers, tusks, wood and stones. Colored stones were used for decora-
tion of all kinds.
Artists still use traditional patterns and
colors (above) that are found on vessels
created hundreds of years ago (right).
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