Specializing in Native American Crafts Since 1916

Native American Beadwork and Hides

Antique Native American beadwork may be found in all Native American culture, but never had it evolved as an art form in such a way as it did in the Plains of Native America. Native Americans made their own beads from native materials for centuries, but the painstaking process made beads scarce and hard to come by. With the introduction of trade sources through the French via Canada came a surplus of glass beads that soon came to ornament nearly every functional item of the Plains culture literally from head to toe. Sewn with sinew thread on hand-tanned hides, elaborate and colorful designs began to evolve, the style and symbolism of which became an important means of tribal identity and inter-tribal trade. The organic nature of the hides and the utilitarian use to which they were put means few samples prior to the 1930’s survive making those pieces still existing rare indeed.

Native American Beadwork Design

Early designs in Plains beadwork were usually simple stripes and geometrics, the colors and designs of which were prescribed by ceremonial stricture. Later, especially after the 1870s, the designs began to change and become more complex and elaborate, although the old ceremonial designs were still created. The artistry and excellence in Native American beadwork was considered a matter of pride for the individual artist. Women made all the clothing and beadwork for their families with the exception of weaponry and the accouterments of war, which were the men’s domain. Although few items remain, those that do exemplify this pride and care in beauty, artistry, and workmanship.

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