Form, Pattern, and Function
The diversity of the American Indian peoples is reflected in their art. The objects in this exhibition were selected to show this diversity and how the form, pattern, and function of each is dependent on the lifestyle and environment of the people who made them.
The lifestyles of Native Americans are a reflection of their relationship to nature. They made use of the natural resources available and fashioned these resources into objects suited to their way of life, as illustrated by the containers in this gallery. The rawhide containers used by the nomadic buffalo-hunting tribes of the Plains are one example of how the parts of the buffalo were used; in this case, the hide was fashioned into containers suitable for traveling. On the other hand, the Zuni water jar, made of the plentif ul clay of the Pueblo region, suited their more settled, agrarian lifestyle.
American Indians also traded heavily among each other, receiving goods not available or difficult to obtain. As the Indians came into contact with new objects, they took inspiration from them and adapted designs, patterns, and forms for their own use. The same was true of the Indians when the Europeans, mainly Spanish explorers in the southwest and French and English fur traders of the north, brought unfamiliar materials and techniques. The Pueblo Indians, who already had a sophisticated weaving technology using cotton, transformed their textiles by the adoption of wool provided by sheep introduced by the Spanish. At the same time the introduction of the horse, also by the Spanish, revolutionized the life of the buffalo-hunting Plains Indians. The French and English traded glass beads for fur pelts, and these brightly colored objects quickly replaced traditional methods of decoration such as the moose hair and porcupine quills used by the Indians of the Northeast, Woodland, and Subarctic regions.
Native Americans made use of everything they made, whether it was a knife, a religious ceremonial mask, or a military bonnet. Each object was imbued with a sense of beauty and design. As the nineteenth century closed and most Indian nations were forced onto reservations their lifestyles changed dramatically. Ironically the enforced leisure caused a flowering of Native American art, which became a symbol of enduring pride in the American Indian way of life.