Native American Art Traditions Come to Market (+Photos)

National Museum of the American Indian holds annual gift event
December 6, 2013 Last Updated: December 8, 2013

NEW YORK—Viewing antiques and antiquities in a museum often inspires awe, but the experience sometimes leaves burning questions that we wish we could direct to the objects’ long-departed creators.

The National Museum of the American Indian, a Smithsonian museum with a location each in Washington, D.C. and New York, has a solution to this impulse.

Begun in 2006, its annual Native American Art Market is not only a place to find holiday gifts, but a chance to meet contemporary practitioners of age-old traditions. 

The event connects New York shoppers directly with painters, sculptors, jewelers, and fashion designers from tribes all across the U.S. and Canada. This year’s market features 35 artists working in wildly different mediums from clay to silver, fur to tree bark. 

Visitors can also enjoy Native American-inspired dishes catered by Abigail Kirsch.

The weekend market will take place in the New York location on Dec. 7–8 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is free. Find out more at nmai.si.edu/artmarket

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Shaaxsaani and her daughter Mercedes of Indigenous Princess create contemporary styles from materials traditional to their Tlingit tribe of Southeast Alaska—seal skin, badger claws, and teeth of all sorts. (All photos by Samira Bouaou/Epoch Times)

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A “strawberry” at the table of Kelly Church is an item woven from the black ash tree—the growth rings are peeled away in thin strips, dyed, and woven. Church is a member of the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa.

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Kelly Church calls this her “fiberegé” egg. 

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Tchin of the Blackfeet and Narragansett shows a visitor his selection of silver, stone, and shell jewelry. We’re loving his silver bow-tie.

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Tchin gathers ancient arrowheads from farmers who find them in their fields. Some of them are 15,000 years old. “If I hold it and think about the fact that someone fifteen hundred years ago used it so his family could survive, I get such a connection—it’s phenomenal and mind-boggling,” he said. Here he’s bound them in silver to use as pendants. 

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In Tchin’s tradition, women created art in geometric forms while men created more representational art as a way of “bragging” about the hunt of the day.

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Nona Latona paints a pot at her’s and Joseph Latona’s table. All the clay and pigments and naturally sourced and the pottery hand-coiled and fired. Remarkably, 70 percent of every batch breaks in the kiln due to the precise conditions this pottery requires, according to Joseph Latona of the San Felipe and Zuni Pueblos in New Mexico. Joseph said he is completely self-taught through eight years of trial and error.

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Lisa Holt hand coils these pots and Harlan Reano paints them in modernized versions of traditional Cochiti and Kewa designs. The couple, based in Santa Fe, boils a plant called beeweed for three days to use in painting the designs. 

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Navajo quilt-maker Susan Hudson comes from a long line of weavers. Her award-winning quilt lists the names of ancestors and those who survived the Long Walk in 1864. 

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A carved doll becomes a conversation starter at the Darance Chimerica table.

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Lisa Hageman Yahgulanaas wears a wool-and -river-otter headdress traditional to her Haida people, who live on an island off of British Columbia. She does gravity-weighted finger weaving, a time-consuming method which eschews a loom. Read her interview with Canadian Geographic here.

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A view of the Native American Art Market’s preview party on the evening of Dec. 6.