Art History:   Grade 3 Lesson 1

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  Red White and Blue Art - Native American Art


  1. HAIDA CARVING TOTEM, , Reproduction Photograph

    Only the Haida (hy'-duh^) and a few nearby tribes made totem poles. These tribes lived along the Pacific Coast in the northwest part of America, where cedar trees grew in abundance. The branches were removed and the bark was scraped off before the carver began forming animal shapes all over the pole. Each carving is called a totem. Some totems tell the story of the origins of the tribe. Others tell about ancestors. The carvings were painted using pigments from soft minerals and earth. Totem poles have always had special meaning to families. The Haida told stories about how the totem animals helped people in the family in the past. They believed their totem animals protected them when there were in trouble. CD94-33-056 : Ninstints poles
    bullet Totem Poles


  1. HAIDA INDIAN POTLATCH ,, Kunstler, Mort, oil, Collection of the Favell Museum, Klamath Falls, OR. Reproduction 

    The artist presents here a picturesque and dramatic scene from the Northwest Native American’s social life. The “potlatch” ceremony, practiced throughout the area, with its accompanying richly carved totem poles, splendidly decorated canoes, and ostentatious insignia and costumes of office and rank was elaborate as any at the fabled Court of King Arthur. It must be understood that a Native American who invites all his friends and neighbors to a great potlatch, and apparently squanders all the accumulated results of long years of labor, has two things in his mind which we can not but acknowledge as wise and worthy of praise. His first object is to pay his debts. This is done publicly and with much ceremony, as a matter of record. His second object is to invest the fruits of his labor so that the greatest benefit will accrue from them for his own benefit as well as for his children.
    The recipients of gifts at this festival receive these as loans, which they utilized in
    their present undertakings. But after the lapse of several years they must repay them
    with interest to the giver or to his heir. Thus the potlatch comes to be considered by
    the Native Americans as a means of insuring the well-being of their children if they
    should be left orphans while still young; it is, we might say, his life insurance.
    bullet What is a Potlatch?


  2. SAND PAINTING, c. 1880, Navaho,  Reproduction

    Sand paintings are not something of and for themselves, but they are a part of a performance which continues for a period varying from one to nine days  which is commonly referred to as a “Chant” or a “Sing.” These words simply mean a combination of many ritualistic acts carried out in a fixed order. They include preparation, purification, performance with and disposal of, materials, all carried out with the greatest of care. Herbal medicine is gathered, used and disposed of. Prayer sticks, made of reed, decorated with paints accompanied by their prescribed feathers, are prayed over and carefully deposited at places where the gods they invite to the ceremony will not fail to see them. Each act is accompanied with song. A
    dozen Native American artists worked eight hours to create this colored sand painting for a Navaho disease-curing ceremony in the 1880’s. The four stick figures represent the guardians of the Navaho crops — corn, beans, tobacco, pumpkins. Encircling most of the painting is the elongated rainbow ~ whose empty hands was placed the medicine. After the ceremony, the painting was destroyed.
    bullet Navajo Sandpaintings - Penfield Gallery


  3. HERDING OF THE SHEEP,  , Navaho, Reproduction print.

    At some time after the arrival of the Spaniards in the Southwest, the Navaho took to the raising of sheep and became herders and stockmen. Their women learned weaving and made the Navaho blanket world famous. They also learned silversmithing and produced work of high excellence, for which Pueblo importers came to trade, bargaining in sign language.


  4. PAINTED TEEPEES,  , Navaho, Reproduction print.

    A teepee was the type of home most commonly used by the Plains tribes, because of their nomadic existence. A teepee was made by stretching a buffalo skin covering over poles. The poles were arranged in the shape of a cone. At the top, the ends of the poles crossed and stuck out of the covering. Two flap “ears" were opened at the top to let out smoke from the campfire. The tent was pegged to the ground all around the bottom. The front had a slit partly closed with wooden pins to form an entrance. The “door” was strategically located for convenience of weather. It was the woman’s work to set up and take down the teepee. It took 14 buffalo hides for 1 teepee.


  5. SHOT IN THE EYE, Ocala Sioux, Plains, Reproduction print

     “Shot in the Eye” is adorned with a buffalo horn bonnet. The warrior’s turtle, with his navel cord enclosed, is tied to the skullcap. Apparently, the umbilical fetish was worn during war as a protection against death. Although the horns of the bonnet are large, they are hollowed, thus relatively light in weight.


  6. COUNTRY OF THE KUTENAI, 1910, Edward S Curtis, American (1868-1952) photogravure from The North American Indian Vol 7

    The Kutenai took much of Montana, gradually moving westward to the northern tip of Idaho and Northeast Washington. They were a tall people and spoke a language unrelated to any other.

    It takes two weeks to make a 15 foot canoe.

    bulletEdward S Curtis - The North American Indian Project (Lib. Congress)



    The Kwakiutl tribe was of the Northwest coast. Carved wooden masks were used for several purposes. Sometimes dancer-storytellers wore masks to act out totem stories during special parties. These masks, like the totem poles, were beautifully carved and brightly painted. Some of the masks had eyes made of pieces of shell. The Kwakiutls made masks with moving parts. They had strings that the wearer could pull to open and close the mask or make parts of the mask move back and forth.
    bullet Kwakiutl
    bullet Kwakiutl Masks - Milwaukee Public Library


  8. TRADITION, 1922, Maynard Dixon, American (1876-1946)

     Dixon was descended from Virginia aristocracy who had moved to the sandy flats of the San Joaquin Valley. Frail as a youth, he taught himself to draw. At 16 he sent sketches to Remington, receiving encouraging comment. He attended the School of Design in San Francisco in 1891, but found the approach too formal. He became a cow-puncher, wandering over Arizona, New
    Mexico and southeast California. His first job in art was in 1895 as a newspaper illustrator in San Francisco. The earthquake of 1906 destroyed Dixon’s accumulated work. In 1909 he was again in the Northwest, sketching Native Americans in Idaho and Nevada. When he returned to San Francisco, his studio was a central point for the western art world. He was considered the leading desert painter, the most successful of the Westerners painting the Southwest. As a colorist he was said to have been influenced by Maxfield Parrish in the blue of the lava ridges, but it simplified as his style grew increasingly modern. In the 1930’s Dixon devoted his time to murals. He died of asthma after completing a mural of the Grand Canyon. 
    bulletMaynard Dixon - Biography
  9. BEADED LEATHER BELT, beads on leather, contemporary

    Native American beadwork and regalia changed over the years depending on items traded and what was available in the local area. Each tribe had a variety of symbols they were partial to. Eagles, arrows, symbols for sun and moon and other animal shapes have been traditional
    decorative designs. The most elaborated work was for ceremonial regalia and work was done mostly by women. Both men and women produce silver and turquoise jewelry in areas of the country where those natural resources are available.


  10. KACHINA DOLL (rattle in hand), Hopi
    Kachinas are supernatural spirits who guided the tribes of the Southwest. For six months of the year, kachinas lived in the "World Below" and came up above ground from the winter solstice to the summer solstice

    Kachina dolls were carved out of wood by southwestern tribes such as the Zuni and Hopi. They were clothed in masks and costumes to look exactly like the men who dressed up as kachina spirits. These dolls were not playthings. They were given to the children to teach them to identify the many different kachinas and the parts they played in tribal ceremonies.

    bullet About the Hopi




  12. INUIT MASK, 23" high, contemporary


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