Native Art, and Native Artists Making Headlines

From quillwork to beadwork, painting and pottery, art is a cornerstone of Native American life. Even today, traditional work is still prominent in many tribes. Yet even more common are the innovative contemporary forms of the older craft styles, with every tribe showing a flair that’s representative of their region or life experience. The more organic paintings of coastal tribes, for instance, differ greatly from the more geometric drawings and quillwork of Plains tribes. This distinctiveness is part of what makes the artwork so attractive and allows Native artists to represent many things in different ways.

Native art by youth of Tohono O’dham Nation

For many families, their artwork is also their trade and livelihood. Native art vendors participate in events across the U.S., many selling fantastic handmade wares ranging from jewelry to baskets, pottery and decorative potpourri for the home. It’s easy to find Native artists at many large gatherings, be it powwows, art festivals, or even some city events and markets where vendors can set up a booth.

The largest event in the world that features Native artists is the Santa Fe Indian Market. Here you can find everything from paintings to quillwork and beadwork, pottery and baskets, rugs and blankets, and other mediums. In 2015, more than 1,000 craft makers and artists were represented at the market, promoting “contemporary growth and evolution” of Native styles from all tribes. Dallin Maybee, Chief Operating Officer of the Southwestern Association for Indian Arts (SWAIA), shares, “[The Santa Fe Indian Market] is a place to embrace diversity, creativity, living traditions and a warm sense of family.”

The Institute of American Indian Arts (IAIA) in New Mexico also offers products created by Native artists, some of them students or alumni of their college. You can explore and purchase authentic Native Arts at the National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI), part of the Smithsonian family in Washington, D.C., and in shops such as the Heard Museum in Phoenix, Prairie Edge in Rapid City, S.D., and the gift shop at the nearby Crazy Horse memorial museum. Many of their items are Native-made, though some are not, so buyer beware.

On the Beyond Buckskin blog, they provide a list of artists to help you buy Native. We add to this a shout out to some Native artists recently making headlines through their unique offerings, among them, Frank Buffalo Hyde (Nez Perce), Wendy Red Star (Crow), George Longfish (Seneca/Tuscarora), Shonto Begay (Diné), and to indigenous artists like Jared Yazzie (Navajo), Nani Chacon (Navajo/Chicana) and Steven Paul Judd (Kiowa/Choctaw), who are currently being featured in a “Native re-appropriations” exhibit.

At the end of the day, it is always the consumer’s choice about what to buy and where to shop. If you do shop retail, research what you are buying. Look for the artist’s “hallmark” stamp on Native jewelry, or request a written guarantee or certification from the vendor to confirm authenticity of Native art and crafts. The money lost to “Native knockoffs” takes away from hardworking artists who depend on their commendable and unique skill set to earn a living. When you buy Native, you help support Native families, and you help encourage the demand for Native artwork so this craftsmanship isn’t lost to the passing of generations.

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