Native American Paintings

Native American paintings have been around as long as the tribes themselves have. Indians traditionally painted everyday items like their pottery, clothing, even their tipi covers. They often used symbols of both physical and spiritual significance in their paintings.

The Chumas Indians often created Native American paintings on the walls of the caves long the Pacific Ocean. Their paintings were first done with charcoal in black, then in brighter colors like red and yellow, but they all depicted Indian life or the animals they hunted. Recently in Wisconsin, approximately one hundred charcoal drawings that were 1,300 years old were discovered on the walls of a cave.



Navajo sand painting is one of the most highly regarded examples of Native American paintings. The word the Navajo used for their sand paintings literally means “place where the gods come and go.” The sand paintings have long been used in religious ceremonies and healing ceremonies conducted by the tribe medicine men. However, the sand painting was always destroyed at the end of the ceremony. In the late 1940’s, the Navajo decided to start preserving their sand art. To not be sacrilegious, they changed the designs used on the sand paintings slightly. Today, the sand paintings are made by trickling sand slowly over a board. The sand is made of crushed rock, stone, and minerals. Because of its beauty and the talent required to make it, a Navajo sand painting can be very expensive.

Many artists such as Oscar Howe and R.C. Gorman helped close the gap between traditional Native American paintings and mainstream art. Today, many Native American artists still create beautiful paintings that portray life in the West, as well as their people’s experiences and history. Many show the very essence of their people, showing fierce warriors and chiefs, animals, birds such as the eagle, and ceremonial dancers.





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