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The Unique Symbols and Colors of Native American Art

The Unique Symbols and Colors of Native American Art

Native American Art is incredibly beautiful. However, from pottery and sculptures to paintings, these pieces of artwork are more than mere aesthetics. They also carry a great depth of meaning, which is something to be admired and appreciated. With that being said, below, we will discuss more about this by taking a look at Native American pottery identifications — particularly the unique symbols and colors of Native American Art. 

Symbols Permeate Every Element of Native American Culture, Art Included

Symbols permeate every element of Native American culture. So, it is of little surprise that American Indian artists create artworks that are filled with images that have profound significance in terms of their perspectives and beliefs. They use symbols to tell stories. Every symbol represents a unique element of life, nature, and the human spirit. 

In Native American culture, nature is considered sacred. The significance of being in tune with the world around you is a theme whereby virtually all forms of Native American Art are rooted. 

Native American Pottery Identifications

Before we dive into the different unique symbols and colors of Native American art, it is best to understand the various Native American pottery identifications. There are forms of art on the market that mimic Native American styles. However, the process and symbolism are what define Native American art. The tradition of pottery making has been handed down over countless generations making for unique, identifiable art. 

One way to hone your Native American pottery identification skills is to become familiar with the different styles of pottery construction. These include the following:

  • Slip Cast: a method of pottery making that involves heating the clay and placing it in molds. Horse hair pieces are generally slip cast. These pieces are not valuable. 
  • Hand Coiled: the clay starts as long ropes that are coiled on top of each other to form the desired shape. Once the clay is partially hardened, it can be etched and sanded if the artist wishes. 

Most traditional pieces also feature natural pigments made from plants and minerals rather than store-bought paint. 

Understanding Some of the Most Common Native American Art Symbols

Symbols from Native America are a language of their own. You won’t find a master list that will chronicle every single image or character that has been used in American culture. But don’t worry, as we are going to go through some of the most common symbols to give you a better understanding. 
  • The Sun - There is only one place to begin, and this is with the sun, which is also known as the Zia symbol. The sun means “Earth’s guardian,” representing warmth and healing energy. The sun is the giver of spirit, energy, and life. 
  • The Circle - Another important symbol is the circle. This has a number of different meanings throughout various tribes. However, it is typically understood to be a representation of the four natural elements, i.e., fire, wind, earth, and weather. It is linked with cycles, for example, the seasons changing or the natural cycle of dying and being reborn.
  • The Arrow - An arrow is a symbol of defense and protection. There are a number of ways it can be used to signal alertness of war, provide direction, or ward off evil. If the arrow is broken, it can be used as a symbol of peace.
  • The Bear - Finally, in Native American culture, the bear is considered a sacred animal. There are many different meanings associated with the bear, which are typically based on courage, physical power, and spiritual power. The bear track or claw is believed to be a good omen, which is generally used by those looking for leadership as a source of strength. 

Color is Used to Infuse Meaning and Beauty Into Their Artwork

Different colors have different spiritual or religious meanings, or they represent different ideas. These will typically differ based on various tribes. For instance, the Navajo tribe deems black, yellow, white, and blue to represent the four sacred mountains. On the other hand, the Apache tribe replaces blue with green.

Colors Represent Concepts, Elements of Nature, Animals, and Specific Qualities 

A color’s symbolic value can be seen in many different elements of conventional Native American society, especially their art. The four directions, for instance, north, east, south, and west, are usually represented by four individual colors. 

Color is also utilized to depict meaning in the Medicine wheel, an image that is a symbol of the lifespan of man, which is in four phases - birth, growth, maturity, and death.

While tribes do have different meanings for colors, there are some common shades that have numerous and similar meanings from group to group. Let’s take a look at some:

  • Yellow is associated with heroism, dawn, intellect, and a willingness to fight to the death.
  • White is a symbol of snow, peace, and mourning.
  • Black is a symbol of aggression, warrior, disease, death, and male.
  • Blue is associated with confidence, females, water, sky, and wisdom.
  • Red is a color linked with strength, earth, war, violence, blood, wounds, and Spiritual Life. 

    You will often see the colors orange, gold, and yellow used in Native American Art. These shades represent the South direction, fire, and even the season of fall. There are different meanings associated with these shades across various Native tribes. 

    So there you have it: everything you need to know about the different colors and symbols that are used in Native American Art. From Hopi pottery to Acoma Pueblo Pottery, it is certainly no exaggeration to say that every piece of Native American Art tells a story. 

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