Native American Art


Native Art

Pre-Columbian art thrived over a wide timescale, from 1800 BC to AD 1500. Despite the great range and variety of artwork, certain characteristics were repeated throughout the region, namely a preference for angular, linear patterns, and three-dimensional ceramics. Most of the now known artworks made in Central and South America before the voyage of Christopher Columbus have been found in tombs. Enormous amounts of time, energy and materials were spent to properly equip the societies’ leaders and elite for their after-death journeys. Pre-Columbian cultures viewed reality as a multilayered universe with various divisions, attended by numerous deities whose activities and relationships metaphorically expressed the forces of nature and cosmos. Death was considered a transition and journey from one realm of existence to another. The elaborate preparation and offerings associated with burying the dead reflect the importance of equipping a soul for transition from one realm to another.

Archaeologists divide the development of Native American cultures in the Great Plains region into 5 periods before European contact. After the Archaic period, the first is Plains later Archaic (1000-200). This was followed by the Plains Woodland period (200-800), so-called because of similarities to the Hopewell culture to the east. In the Plains Village period (800-1400), the cultures of the area settled in enclosed clusters of rectangular houses and cultivated maize. Various regional differences emerged, including Southern Plains, Central Plains, Oneota, and Middle Missouri. During the Plains Coalescent period (1400-European contact) some change, possibly drought, caused the mass migration of the population to the Eastern Woodlands region, and the Great Plains were relatively unpopulated until pressure from American settlers drove tribes into the area again. The culture of historical Plains natives was based upon the buffalo, and they often painted upon buffalo skin. Buffalo-skin clothing was decorated with embroidery and beads – shells at first, but later coins and glass beads acquired from trading. They were popular bridal shower gifts during that period. This is known today as Ledger Art. The Lakota drew pictographic calendars known as Winter counts on animal hides.

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