NativeTech: Native American Technology & Art
A Discussion of Terms

The range in decorative arts and the unique technology employed by Native Americans is truly exceptional. Using advanced skill and intricate knowledge of their surroundings, Native Americans across this Turtle Island (North America) construct and embellish innumerable objects from the variety of materials. Most of these materials are available within arm's reach or were obtained in the past through extensive indigenous trade networks.

Hundreds, even thousands of years ago in the Northeastern woodlands and other regions of North America, the accumulation of too many material possessions becomes a burden to people whose movements must be scheduled according to the availability of abundant resources. Little material culture produced by Natives of Northeastern North America was not intended for daily use. Yet many of these so-called 'everyday household items' are ornately decorated with designs and symbols significant to a peoples' culture.

With technical skill the Native American artist utilizes pattern, design and structure. Art produced by Native Americans must be defined in its own terms, without relying on European conceptions of art. Forms of art may be discussed in terms of the unique sets of materials, tools and techniques used. By asking who used what technology, who produced art, what was being made, and who was it being made for, you can start to appreciate the unique complex technologies of the different Native American Peoples across North America.

Today, traditions in Native American art continue to grow. The twentieth century provides opportunities to work in different media and explore new forms and outlets of for Native American art. New traditions in Native art are continually born and passed on. Native Americans art is not static, Native People exist despite Columbus, and contemporary Native art expresses some of the brutal transformations of the culture in the last centuries, which still continues today.

A discussion of the technology and art begins with the Native American technicians and artists, the types of traditional tools and materials used, and the kinds of ideas expressed through Native American art. By learning about the context (the social and ideological background) of Native American art, we avoid reacting to this art with European conceptions of what 'art' should be. By studying the ideas or feelings expressed through ornamentation, we can appreciate Native American art, and begin separate it from the artifacts of everyday life.

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© 1994 - Tara Prindle
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