The History of Native American Indian Crafts

Published on July 4, 2011 by Amy

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Turquoise and Silver Native American Jewelry
Turquoise and Silver Native American Jewelry

The crafts that developed over hundreds of years are a tribute to the adaptability and culture of the indigenous tribes of America. From the trees in the east, to the stones and clay of the mountainous west and the shells of the coast, the Native Americans learned to adopt local nature into their crafts.

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Early American Indians were nomads — they moved from one place to another according to the availability of food. They made pottery from whatever was available. Wood, clay and hollowed-out gourds were common materials for pottery. Since pottery was heavy and hard to pack, the first pottery was fragile and usually broke before the Indians moved camp. After their pottery skills improved, they hid the pottery so it would be available when they returned. The pottery varied from one tribe to another because of the diverse types of clay used for the pottery across America, and tribal artists decorated the pottery with symbols from their tribe. Today, Native American artists duplicate the uniqueness of the pottery made long ago.

Jewelry and Beadwork

Jewelry making and adornments among the Native American Indians dates back to 300 B.C., and over the centuries the Indians developed skills in making jewelry out of bone, seashells, turquoise, stones, opal, onyx, silver and gold. The jewelry, in the past as well as now, is rich in symbolism and has a deep spiritual meaning. Beadwork began when the Europeans introduced glass beads to the American Indian. Native Indians soon became masters at beadwork and created some amazing beaded art by incorporating shell and turquoise into the pieces. Eastern tribes used beaded wampum belts as a currency.

Dream Catchers and Quill Work

Dream catchers are exclusively Native American, and legend says that the dream catcher catches the bad dreams before they get to the children. A dream catcher is a teardrop frame with sinew strands tied around it like a web. Natives hung the dream catcher outside of the dwelling or over a sleeping baby to keep bad dreams away. Quill work is an ancient art form practiced by the eastern and plains American Indians. To create quill work, the artisans softened a porcupine quill and wove it into birch bark or leather. Decorating medicine bags, moccasins, boxes and blankets with quill work is impressive, but the most impressive are the war shirts that took up to a year to complete.


Basket weaving is the oldest known Native American art. As with most Indian art, there are distinct differences between the tribes. Different materials made up the baskets, such as sweet grass in the northeast, pine needles of the southeast, willow wood in the southwest and swamp grass from the northwest. Techniques, shapes and tribal patterns also played a part in making the baskets unique to a particular tribe or region. Even after the government integrated the Indians together, the distinct diversity of the baskets remains alive and is evident in today’s baskets.

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Based on the collective work of, © 2015 Native American Encyclopedia.
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