The subject of Native American crafts is an enormous topic, since Native American crafts are an integral part of Native American culture and beliefs. A wide range of information is available on and off the internet, in museums, books, etc. Many volumes have been written about the artifacts, traditions and adornment of various tribes across North America.
The purpose of these pages is not to give a broad overview of all Native American crafts, but rather to discuss some specific crafts that are popular with collectors and the public in general. The information offered here deals briefly with the history and development of each craft, then provides information on various styles within the craft, as well as things to consider when buying.
You may ask why these particular Native American crafts. The answer is, these are some of the most popular crafts, accessible to most people, and some of those most commonly sold.
Native American silver jewelry is made by many different tribes, but the most popular jewelry is made by the pueblos and the Navajo or Dine' living in Arizona, New Mexico, Utah and Colorado. The appeal of this jewelry is so universal that styles typical of Navajo, Zuni and Hopi silver work are widely copied by non-Indians, in the United States as well as in other countries. For example, imitation silver conchos are sold in almost every craft store in the United States. In addition to the work of Native American individuals and families, Native American silver jewelry and Native American style jewelry is mass-produced for a global market.
Today Native American silversmiths make just about any kind of jewelry or silver work imaginable. You can buy Native American silver baby rattles, business card holders, silverware sets and, thimbles. As unusual stones from around the world become available, artists incorporate them into their work. The result of changing patterns, materials and products is that there's always something new.
Outside of museums and collectors, and Native Americans themselves, until recently bead work had not been given the recognition that other Native American crafts have received. Despite the amount of work involved, buyers didn't expect to pay the same prices for quality Native American bead work they paid for fine silver or baskets. Native American bead work is now recognized as an art along with silver, pottery, baskets and other crafts.
As with silver, today you can buy many unusual beaded objects--from beaded wine glasses and salt and pepper shakers to beaded decorations for stethoscopes. Traditional beading patterns are copied, reinterpreted in various styles and colors.
New shades of beads coming on the market mean that bead work is never the same two years in a row, and, because of changing bead colors, the same pattern may not look the same worked in different tones.
Unlike bead work, Navajo rugs have always been made to sell or barter, and have always been sought after collectibles. Many a cherished heirloom is the result of some relative's visit to Albuquerque or Gallup. The bold, simple patterns and natural materials especially compliment modern decors.
In addition to the rug patterns developed by 19th century traders, modern Navajo weavers have gone on to develop new styles of their own, some, like the Tree of Life pattern, embody symbols important to Navajo culture and beliefs. Others, like double wrapped rugs, are a refinement of earlier styles.
Pottery is a craft with roots in Native American tradition. Every tribe that has made pottery has traditional clays, techniques and designs. The Native American pottery currently made for sale ranges in design from traditional to experimental. However, until the beginning of the 20th Century, Indian pottery was mainly collected by museums and researchers studying the culture.
When the Santa Fe Railroad reach Albuquerque in 1880, a few pueblo potters such as Maria Martinez began making traditional polychrome pottery for sale to visitors. Then archaeologist Edgar Hewett who was excavating Bandelier National Monument, asked Maria to make pottery styled after the broken shards uncovered at Bandelier. The outcome was Maria's famous matte on black pottery and the revival of pottery making as a source of income for the pueblos of New Mexico. At almost the same time the Kewa potter Nampeyo began a revival of Hopi pottery.
The many styles of modern Native American pottery offer something for every taste and pocket book. As with any living craft, materials are constantly being adopted and new styles developed.
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