Native American Painting
by Brian Honeycutt
A Brief Account of Native American Painting
Artwork depicting tribal ceremonies, American wildlife, and Native American people are things we can associate with the traditional idea of the Native American. Painting, however, was traditionally something used to decorate functional items such as tips and tools, or natural elements such as caves or rocks on cliff sides. Now Native American painting is often taken up by Native Americans to reference things important to the modern Native American. This includes new ways of painting traditional Native American themes.
Unfortunately, there are also a lot of non-native Americans that are creating paintings that are sold as Native American art. These paintings often resemble something like a Thomas Kinkade painting, but with inauthentic representations of a Native American thrown in. Native American painting generally does not look like the kind of thing you’d see in Cecil B. Demille’s The Plainsman.
Painting is something that has been important to Native American tribes. Native American painting with sand is probably foremost amongst these, at least for artistic purposes. Navajo tribes are most known for this practice that involves the use of paint, an adhesive, and of course, sand. Sand painting originally was designed for spiritual purposes. Today, however, some Native Americans use sand painting to reflect various aspects of their culture and sell the art for secular purposes. Sand painting kits are also available for the uninitiated.
There have been a great many books written about Native American Painting. Just browse through an online book store and you’re likely to find books about specific artists, geographic locations where rock paintings still exist, and books that attempt to explain the history of Native American painting. Some of my favorite books are those that talk about shamanic art, such as the art of David Chethlahe Paladin. Books about shamanic art often discuss paintings of dreams or images witnessed in a vision quest. This is something that is interesting to me because I am very interested in personal introspection through meditation and the amazing power of dreams.
Painting and drawing in ledger books became a new form of artistic expression for Native American in the 19th century. As Western settlers brought war, oppression, and a general change in daily life to Native Americans, the ledger books which totaled the sums of transactions between Native Americans and the newly arrived Westerners. Native American painting began to adopt European art techniques, including the use of watercolors, adding these to their own traditional practices, thus giving birth to new art forms. Incidentally, there is an exhibit of Native American ledger painting that is currently taking place at the Hood Museum on Dartmouth College
There are a variety of ways that you can view or own a Native American painting. There are many greeting cards, postcards, posters, and books depicting replications on Native American paintings. There are also a good deal of Native American artists working with paint today who, like almost all artists, sell their original pieces and lithograph reproductions. Older paintings made on rocks can also still be found in certain areas across America. Museums such as the Apache Historical Museum also have a lot of traditional Native American paintings that you can look at, although you won’t be able to purchase these as originals.
54 Native American Paintings
More Articles by Brian Honeycutt