Native Americans have long created objects of great beauty, as shown in thousands of images in the APS collections. Though often described simply as “handicrafts,” these items have deep cultural significance.
For instance, pottery and weaving, often done by women, can transform utilitarian containers or pieces of cloth into expressions of personal and tribal identity. Objects such as headdresses and musical instruments acquire special meaning when used in ceremonies and rituals. The famed totem figures of Northwest Coast peoples often represent clan relationships. Even apparently simple, often undecorated items such as baskets or canoes are themselves beautiful in their merging of form and function.
The images seen here, whether sketches, black-and-white photographs, or even color pictures, only give a glimpse of the complexity of Native American material culture. Pictures of people with their creations, whether in process or completed, can tell another side of the story. We can study the photographs of a Mayan potter in Guatemala, of a Kawchottine (Hare) moccasin-maker in Canada’s Northwest Territories, or of Chauncey Johnny John, a Seneca basket-weaver in New York, for information on techniques and styles. The images, however, also reveal how people weave their identities into their artistry.