From East To West
Across Our Homelands
Our Homelands stretch from coast to coast, across the continent of North America. We are many different peoples, all with a unique cultural identity. For thousands of years our ancestors have traded and shared ideas and materials with one another, traveling over the ancient paths and trade routes that connect us. Our Grandmothers and Grandfathers have taught us the traditional ways of weaving grasses and fibers, of molding clay, of carving wood and stitching quills and beads into useful items as well as beautiful and symbolic works of art.
When visitors from Spain, France, Holland and Great Britain first arrived on our shores four centuries ago we welcomed the commodities these new trading partners could provide. Glass beads, calico fabrics, wool and metals were incorporated into our traditional lifeways. Though many changes have occurred since our earliest encounters with European peoples, our communities and cultural traditions have endured. We continue to educate our sons and daughters in the skills of our ancestors as we pass on our unique techniques and designs, and their social and spiritual meanings, to younger generations.
From East to West, we celebrate the enduring artistry and individuality of Native American communities throughout North America.
Comprising portions of present-day Connecticut; Illinois; Indiana; Iowa; Kentucky; Maine; Maryland; Massachusetts; Michigan; Minnesota; Missouri; New Hampshire; New Jersey; New York; North Carolina; Ohio; Pennsylvania; Rhode Island; Tennessee; Vermont; Virginia; West Virginia; and Wisconsin, the Eastern Woodlands are marked by their wooded environments, rich with deciduous and coniferous forests and plentiful with lakes and streams.
Baskets have been a part of Native American life for thousands of years. As European peoples expanded into North America after 1700 and the size of American Indian populations and homelands were dramatically reduced, traditional Native economies based on hunting, fishing, wild plant gathering and/or cultivation had to adapt to new realities. Once made strictly for personal use and often connected to spirituality, woven baskets quickly became valuable commodities to be traded for manufactured goods or sold for cash. Although basket styles sometimes changed to appeal to Euro-American tastes, symbolic design elements often became more pronounced and gained more significance as a way for Native Peoples to maintain and continue their sense of tribal or community identity.
Machine-made textiles, frequently woolen but also linen and calicos, were first introduced to Native Americans during the early 17th century as part of the European-Indian fur trade. Commercially manufactured fabrics were eagerly sought by Indigenous Peoples because they were much easier to cut, stitch and keep clean than the animal hides they replaced. Garments made from trade cloth were considered a status symbol among Native American peoples. Beginning in the late 1700s much of the cloth obtained by Native American tribes was provided to them by the United States government as payment or reparation resulting from land transactions and peace treaties acknowledged by both parties.
Comprising portions of present-day Alabama; Arkansas; Florida; Georgia; Louisiana; Mississippi; North Carolina; Oklahoma; South Carolina; Tennessee; Texas; Virginia; and West Virginia, the Southeast is marked by its mountains, rivers and forests in the northern regions and areas of grasslands and swamps in the south.
Sewing has always been an important Seminole tradition and colorful clothing adorned with bands of intricate patchwork designs is considered to be traditional dress for the Seminole people. The Seminole tribe of Florida originated in the mid-1700sThe word Seminole, derived from the Creek language, means "runaway." The Seminole tribe evolved over many decades as diverse groups of Southeastern Native Americans and escaped African slaves joined together in Florida after leaving their original homelands to be free of the pressures of white domination. Many "runaways" were welcomed into the tribe in the wake of the Indian Removal Act of 1830. There are currently five Seminole reservations in Florida. at a time when many Native Peoples had already replaced their animal hide clothing with garments made from cotton European cloth. Hand-stitched appliqué was the earliest decorative technique used on Seminole clothing. The hand-operated sewing machine, however, made its appearance in Seminole camps as early as 1880, and within a decade sewing machines were commonplace in every Seminole village. Facilitated by this new technology, a novel decorative technique was developed: the now famous Seminole patchwork. Designs often incorporated clan symbols as well as bars of alternating color and a sawtooth design. As time went on and seamstresses became more practiced at their skill, the designs became increasingly intricate. This exquisite and unique art form was eagerly sought after by early 20th century visitors to Florida and became a valuable source of income for Seminole women.
Comprising portions of present-day Arizona; Colorado; New Mexico; and Texas, the Southwest is marked by vast mountains and deep canyons in the northern areas and deserts in the south.
Navajo rugs are considered a signature art form of this Southwestern tribe and are eagerly sought by collectors. The Navajo People first learned the art of weaving from their Pueblo neighbors during the late 1500s, a date which coincides with the time domestic sheep were introducedWool first became available to Native Americans in the mid to late 1500s when Spanish explorers, then settlers brought Churro sheep, a rugged breed with straight, long hair, into the New Mexico region. Prior to the introduction of wool, fabrics were woven from a natural cotton fiber which had been domesticated in Mexico and the Southwestern region for thousands of years. into the American Southwest. The earliest woven wool textiles were large heavy-weight blankets worn as a winter garment. These "wearing blankets" often had a simple striped pattern utilizing subtle colors produced from a variety of natural plant dyes. Beginning in the late 1800s, Navajo artisans were persuaded by European-American traders to make heavier pieces to be sold as floor coverings, providing much needed income to the tribe. At the same time a variety of commercial aniline dyes became available, inspiring brilliant designs. Weaving was one of several ways in which the Navajo people continued to maintain their unique cultural identity despite their subjugated status.
Kachinas (or Katsinas), considered to be the ancestors of the Hopi people, play a vital role in their religion as well as in the spiritual worldview of other Pueblo Peoples. Kachinas are the Spirit Beings who reside in every aspect of the world from the clouds, to rain, to the food we eat. To give form and visual understanding to the Kachina spirits male Hopi, often clothed in elaborate garments and masks, personify the Spirit Beings in ceremonial dances. Figurines usually carved from cottonwood root in the image of the dancers have been used for generations to teach Hopi children about their religion. During Kachina ceremonies, young children are gifted these "dolls" from masked dancers. Most Hopi and Pueblo carvers did not sell their work until after World War II when they took up wage labor and moved off the reservations. Initially collected as curiosities and souvenirs, demand for Kachina dolls has since been encouraged by events such as the Gallup Intertribal ceremony and Flagstaff Pow Wow as well as a general increased awareness of American Indian art and crafts.
Comprising portions of present-day Arkansas; Colorado; Iowa; Kansas; Minnesota; Missouri; Montana; Nebraska; North Dakota; Oklahoma; South Dakota; Texas; and Wyoming, the Plains are marked by their wide grasslands, cut through by rivers and streams.
Before the introduction of glass trade beads to North America, Native peoples decorated their clothing as well as other possessions with materials they could obtain from their local environment. Seeds, stones, animal bones, shells, porcupine quills and moose hair were all frequently used adornments. Although glass beads were brought to the western hemisphere by the Columbus expedition in 1492 as well as by several other early European explorers, the bead trade in North America did not actually begin until sometime in the 1600s. Early records show that the Mohawks had glass beads by 1616. From 1780 through the early 1800s these beads gradually spread from the East to the Rocky Mountain area of the West. The first glass beads encountered by Native American communities originated in Venice, Italy and were referred to as "pony beads" because they were transported across North America by pony-pack trains. Coming in colors of white, red, yellow, black and hues of blue, these beads largely replaced the natural stone and shell beads that required extensive amounts of time and labor to produce. Embroidery work done with glass beads became popular first on animal hide garments, then later on broadcloth or trade cloth. Floral designs are typical of beadwork done by Woodland Indians and people of the Northwest Coast, while geometric motifs were often used by Plains and Southwest peoples. Today's Indigenous Peoples continue the beadwork traditions of their tribes using glass beads as well as time-honored natural materials.
Comprising portions of present-day California; Oregon; Washington and extending along the West coast of Canada and into Southern Alaska, the Northwest Coast is a narrow region between the Pacific Ocean on the west and mountain ranges on the east. The mountains trap ocean air, resulting in a generally cool, wet climate and abundant flora.
The various forms of wooden carvings created by the indigenous peoples of the Northwest Coast are among the most striking and memorable examples of Native American artwork. Most likely beginning with heavily carved interior house posts, by the eighteenth century, European explorers along the coast were documenting the monumental totem poles that have become so famous in modern times. Peoples of the Northwest Coast have never limited themselves to totem poles however, but carve all manner of ceremonial masks, boxes, potlatch traysAmongst the people of the Northwest Coast, potlatch ceremonies were celebrations that served to redistribute wealth. During a potlatch, a family leader would host guests in their home and frequently give away possessions as part of the ceremony. Holding a potlatch was a way of elevating social status and families that gave away the most were considered in the highest echelons of society. Potlatch trays were ornately decorated trays upon which food or gifts were served at potlatch ceremonies. and wall decorations. The vast majority of these works are carved out of the cedar wood that is so plentiful in the Northwest Coast and have become highly sought after by collectors.
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