In American Indian cultures, art is not separate from daily life. Traditionally, the things people used in their everyday life-clothing, tools, housing, containers-were often decorated to enhance their beauty and their spirituality. Prior to the European invasion, the Indian people of the Plateau area-roughly the area between the Rocky Mountains and the Cascade Mountains in the Pacific Northwest-decorated their clothing and other items with paintings, with beads made from shell, animal teeth, bone, and other items, and with porcupine quills. With the European invasion, new decorative elements became available to the Indians: glass beads. These beads were quickly adopted into the cultures and began to replace and supplement both painting and quilling. The Plateau Indians soon became well-known for their fine bead work. Shown below are some example of Plateau Indian beadwork which are on display at the Portland (Oregon) Art Museum.
Beaded bags are made and used throughout the Plateau area. The beaded bags are usually made from cloth and beaded on one side only. The beadwork is an appliqué technique in which the beads lie evenly over the surface of the bag in straight rows that extend from one side of the bag to the other. The main design is beaded first and then the background is beaded around it.
The area between the Cascade Mountains and the Rocky Mountains in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, British Columbia, and Western Montana is known as the Plateau Culture area. From north to south it runs from the Fraser River in the north to the Blue Mountains in the south. One of the most important geographic and culture features of the region is the Columbia River. American Indian people have lived along the Columbia River in permanent and semi-permanent villages for thousands of years. As with other American Indian people, art was not a separate category in their lives, but was a part of everyday life. In museum collections, such as that of the Portland (Oregon) Art Museum, their art is often categorized as carvings (stone, bone, wood), beadwork, and basketry.
While it is common for people to assume that basketry refers to containers, shown above are some typical examples of Plateau basketry used in making hats.
Also called Sally Bags and Corn Husk Bags, these bags were made from cornhusk, hemp, string, and yarn using a continuous weave that eliminates seams. Originally, these bags were used for storing foods, such as roots, as the tightness of the weave keeps out dust and dirt.
In a few instances stone carvings have been found in the archaeological sites along the Columbia River. Carved from the abundant basalt many of these figures are relatively small and they are stylistically similar to the many petroglyphs found along the river, These carvings are depict animals found in the area, such as bighorn sheep, condors, seals, beavers, and owls. Many of these figures have small bowl-like depressions in them which may indicate that they were used to hold something. In rare instances, Columbia River stone carvings represent human figures or human-like figures. Shown below are some of the stone carvings on display at the Portland (Oregon) Art Museum.
Prior to the European invasion, Mesoamerica was the home to many highly developed civilizations. Geographically this is a region that extends from central Mexico to South America. Shown below are some of the items from these ancient Mesoamerican cultures which are on display at the Portland (Oregon) Art Museum.
Shown above are some labrets: these are plugs which are inserted in a hole in the lower lip.
Shown above is a piece from the Omec.
Prior to the European invasion, South America was the home to many highly developed civilizations. Homo sapiens have lived in South America for at least 15,000 years and possibly longer. By 2000 BCE some highly developed civilizations had emerged in the region. There was a dramatic increase in population during this time and the economies became more dependent on stable, intensive agricultural systems.
The Inka Empire was the dominant state at the time of the Spanish conquest. The Inka had expanded out of their home in Cuzco to control an empire which spread from modern Ecuador in the north to central Chile in the south. The expansion of the Inka Empire began about 1438 and grew by military conquest.
The ancient civilizations of South American are well-known for their metalwork, particularly their work in gold which the Spanish often melted down; their pottery, which includes realistic portrayals of men and women (including men and women engaged in sexual intercourse); and finely woven textiles. Shown below are some of the items from these ancient South American cultures which are on display at the Portland Museum of Art.
Shown above are clothing pins.
The area of the United States east of the Mississippi River is often referred to as the Eastern Woodlands. This is an area in which American Indians practiced agriculture for at least a millennium prior to the European invasion. Shown below are some examples of Eastern Woodlands Indian art on display at the Portland Art Museum.
The Northwest Coast peoples have a wide variety of garments which are worn during ceremonies and for special occasions. Sometimes the clothes are decorated with crest designs that show the wearer’s clan. Shown below are some examples of Northwest Coast textiles and weaving which are on display at the Portland Art Museum.
Some neckpieces are shown above.
One of the best examples of Northwest Coast weaving can be seen in the Chilkat Dancing Blankets or Robes (example shown above). These blankets combine the twining of mountain goat wool and cedar bark with the images of mythological creatures. According to some experts, The pattern of the Chilcat blanket came from the Tsimshian and was adopted by the Tlingit, the Chilcat people specializing in its production, owning to the ease with which mountain goat’s wool could be procured in their district.
Traditionally, it would take a year or more to make a Chilkat Blanket. The blankets are woven by the women, but the designs are painted by male artists on special pattern boards.
A pattern board for a Chilcat robe is shown above.
This is another woven robe.
A woven rain hat or canoe hat is shown above.
A button blanket is shown above. This is a Tlingit blanket made about 1900 with pearl buttons and wool cloth. Button blankets were developed during the 19th century. Most are made of dark blue wool with a red pattern. The buttons are sewn individually to create the desired pattern.
A pair of leggings is shown above.
The Northwest Coast is a region in which an entrenched and highly valued artistic tradition flourished. Northwest Coast art-carving and painting-has a very characteristic style. Most commonly, art is used for portraying the family crest and heraldic figures. Shown below are some examples of Northwest Coast carvings which are on display at the Portland Art Museum.
Shown above is a potlatch serving bowl. It is about 12 feet long. The potlatch is an expression of social stratification and so the lower ranking members of the society would be fed from the bowls at the knees and the highest ranking members would be fed from the head. During the several days of the potlatch, the hosts provide the guests with two large meals per day.
Shown above are some of the decorated wooden boxes. One of the unique items among Northwest Coast Indians are kerfed boxes in which the sides of the box are made by scoring and then bending a single board to form the sides of the box. The single side seam is then carefully fitted and sewn together with spruce root. The bottom of the box is also carefully fitted and sewn to the sides. These boxes are waterproof and some are used for cooking. The watertight boxes can be filled with water and when hot stones are dropped into the box the water can be brought to a boil.
Shown above are some examples carved serving spoons.
Shown above are some carved bowls.
Shown above is a drum with an orca design.
Shown above is a cedar box drum. This drum was made by Tsimshian artist David Boxley about 1990.
Shown above is an orca carving.
One of the media used by Northwest Coast artists is argillite. Argillite is a soft stone which is found in the Queen Charlotte Islands. Shown above are some argillite bowls and carvings.
Shown above are some large carved panels.
A carved hat is shown above.
California and the Great Basin is an area of great cultural diversity. With regard to art, this is an area well-known for its basketry. Among some of the tribes, such as the Hupa and Maidu, woven baskets were used for cooking. The weaving on the baskets is so tight that they can hold water. When they were filled with water, hot rocks were used to bring the water to a boil. Shown below are some of the items from the California and Great Basin First Nations which are on display at the Portland Art Museum.