Native American Contributions to Art

Contributor: Suzanne Riordan. Lesson ID: 13146

From beaded moccasins and sand paintings to woven blankets and totem poles, Native American art is colorful and unique. Learn more about these amazing arts, and create your own museum display!


Visual Arts, World Cultures

Social Studies
learning style
Auditory, Visual
personality style
Beaver, Golden Retriever
Grade Level
Middle School (6-8)
Lesson Type
Dig Deeper

Lesson Plan - Get It!

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Artists find ways of bringing color and style to the simplest everyday things.

Watch how one native artist dressed up a pair of shoes and started a sensation!

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One of the greatest gifts of Native Americans to the world is the many beautiful art forms they perfected.

Each tribe had its specialty — whether baskets, pottery, jewelry, or blankets — and every tribe produced beautiful and unique items.

Take a closer look at native art.

First, browse a shop selling authentic Native American art in the video below!

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Native art concepts differ from those of other cultures. Art was not considered a profession in native cultures. Many native languages don't even have a word for art or artist!

Items were created out of need or for religious or other kinds of ceremonies. For example, the famous Navajo sand paintings were part of a healing ceremony. Learn more and see some examples of Navajo Sand Painting.

Native tribes gave the job of creating needed items to whoever could do it the best. And many natives brought an artistic style to whatever they made, including tools and weapons.

Watch the video below to see some examples.

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Early on, Native Americans would often paint pictures to tell stories or to bring some power to the painted item.

They painted on rocks, buffalo skin teepees, and shields.

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Later, some began to take up art as a hobby or profession and to produce beautiful paintings and sculptures that reflect the culture of their tribes.

Look at some Native American Fine Art of the Southwestern tribes.


Baskets have always been a big part of many native cultures. They were needed for carrying food and other items. The women spent many hours weaving baskets for their families' use. They even learned how to make them waterproof!

Each tribe developed its patterns for weaving and used whatever materials were available: reeds, cornhusks, pine needles, etc.

Here are some examples of native baskets.

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Clothing Decoration (beads, quills, feathers)

As you saw in the first video, beading is an important art form for many native artists. Early on, all the beads had to be carved from natural materials: shells, animal bones, and colorful gems and stones. Now the beads are much easier to come by!

Take a look at some beautiful beadwork here.

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Before Europeans made glass beads available, natives used porcupine quills to decorate items such as shirts, bags, boxes, knife sheaves, and moccasins.

The quills were difficult to get and work with, making the garments more difficult to care for. So, most native artists gladly switched to beads.

However, quillwork was an amazing art form while it lasted, and some native artists are trying to preserve the traditional techniques today.

Check out some examples of Quillwork - A Uniquely Native American Art.


Some experts believe that Native Americans discovered pottery after covering a woven basket with mud to make it waterproof. The clay hardened when the mud-covered basket was put over a fire for cooking.

Pottery was made throughout North America by all native cultures.

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Spinning and Weaving

Before Europeans brought sheep to the New World, many native tribes weaved hand-spun cotton threads on large looms. After the arrival of sheep, they started to use wool.

While the Navajo are famous for their beautiful woven blankets, many other cultures have also perfected weaving!

Take a look at these weavings.


While the Northwest tribes are especially known for their impressively carved and painted totem poles, many native tribes became experts at wood carving.

Look at some native woodworking in masks, sculptures, and totems.

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  • Have you gotten some ideas about Native American art?

Great! Move on to the Got It? section to compare two native art forms and tell which is your favorite!

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