American Indian art encompasses many types of arts and crafts, from the more traditionally and / or stereotypically Native American art such as beadwork and pottery, to modern photography, fine paintings, sculptures and the like. There are many art auctions, both online and off, that feature this form of American Indian art.
In this article weâ€™ll discuss one of the most traditional and historically relevant branches of American Indian art: beadwork. Beadwork of the Native American peoples had and has practical as well as decorative; utilitarian as well as rich symbolic meaning.
Beadwork and making of the beads themselves is a very old craft. Stone, bone and shell beads (such as turquoise and semi-precious stones) are still made the same ancient way. Little affected by modern technology, the making of beads is still carried out in nearly the exact same way as peoples did thousands of years ago.
Sea shell bead pieces are among the most popular and well known pieces of regional trade importance for thousands of years. Nearly everyone has seen American Indian art pieces, from beaded necklaces to purses, belts and such.
For the last several decades modern beadwork has been replicated in oriental factories and very cheaply imported. This makes it a competing factor against the top quality beadwork done by American Indian craftspeople. The native American crafts people have lost several millions of dollars (just over an eight year period during the 1980s) to these fake native beads and beadwork pieces.
Historically, beads were carved from turtle shell, animal horn and deer hooves. These were often used for making rattling or tinkling pieces utilized in dance. Hunters often wore necklaces put together with animal portions, such as bear claws or wolf claws. These indicated a hunterâ€™s prowess. Bones and seeds were often steamed to soften them for stringing and /or bending into various shapes.
As an example of beadwork used for a most practical purpose, the Iroqois League (Haudenosee) used white and purple wampum chains made of fresh-water clam shells to record sacred ceremonies, treaties and songs. This practice was used both before and after the coming of European settlers.
Many types of agreements were recorded with such beadwork chains. They were highly valued and cared for by their owners. European settlers mistook this care and reverence for wampum beads as a sign that the beads held monetary significance. As such, they mistakenly assumed that the word â€˜wampumâ€™ referred to money, when in actuality these important beads were much more like very important original documents.