Wednesday, March 24, 2021

Women in ART History - Part 4 (Native American Women)

The most ancient Native American art was made by carving, weaving and painting. In time, clay, silver, turqoise and embellishments such as feathers, shells, and animal teeth or claws were added.

What survived were mostly pottery, weaving and the embellishments. Much of these types of crafts were done by women and regarded mainly for domestic or ritual usage. Women passed their skills and knowledge down to their daughters. 

When you go to a museum, these artifacts bear the name of the tribe and the approximate date, but there's nothing about the maker. Yet, by the mid 19th Century, these crafts became valued by the settlers and traders.

Colonization made these items objects for trade or sale by the indigenous makers and, while prized by many owners, it was considered the skills and creativity of the tribe and not the actual artist. 

A modern Native woman commented after seeing the works of Van Gogh, that it was interesting how his name creates value, but the Native women of the time never received such recognition. Part of that is because many tribes lacked a word for "art" or "artists." It was just what craft a person did and those who made exceptional works were deeply respected by the tribe.

One woman, who became well-known outside of her tribe was a Hopi potter, named Nampeyo (1859-1942) Her pottery is still highly-valued. This surge of interest in the individual Native American woman potter grew throughout the 20th century. 

Some of the modern and beautiful pottery is that of  Maria Martinez (1887-1980, of San Idlefonso Pueblo. As the ancient ways of making pottery were getting lost, her family created new techniques and helped preserve the art of the pots.

To this day, the art of the Native American women is a sacred spiritual ritual. A Navajo woman might spend 600 hours creating a weaving. A Wabanaki woman might spend 300 hours (including collecting the grass) to create a sweetgrass basket. 

While a few indigenous women are known for their art, many still make their works based on the teachings of those that came before. The difference is, now the world values the beauty, originality and skills of these exceptionally talented indigenous women.


1 comment:

  1. The current women artisans are gaining recognition by galleries, museums and collectors. They may be the subject of a future post. For now, it’s about the historic perspective.