American Indian & Ethnographic Art
African & Oceanic Art
Ethnographic Arts denote artwork produced by any indigenous group of people from around the world. Popular ethnographic categories include African and Oceanic arts. These artworks range from items produced for everyday use to objects created simply to be beautiful or ceremonial. Ethnographic arts of an African and Oceanic nature were popular with avant garde artists of Europe during the early 20th centuries and greatly expanded and enhanced the way westerners expressed and understood beauty.
American Indian Art
The art of the American Indian populations of past and present is an often overlooked source of beauty. Given the vast amount of territory covered by American Indian tribes, it is difficult to assign any one artistic strength to the indigenous Americans. They are generally known for their pottery, mythological paintings, jewelry, weavings, sculptures, basketry, beadwork and carvings. The design motifs and materials vary depending on the setting of the tribe, but all generally convey a deep reverence for and knowledge of the beauty of nature. The art pieces collected today were originally used for both everyday and ceremonial uses and display the great craft and resourcefulness of the American Indian people.
During the United States’ movement west in the 19th century, the government worked to make sense of these various tribes by documenting them using the latest technology, photography. These pictures vary in authenticity, and many are clearly arranged photo sessions intricately composed to project an image of American Indian the general population was familiar with. Despite the contrived nature of many of these photographs, some still offer genuine insight into the American Indian way of life in various climates and pursuits. Many of these photographs commissioned by the government during this time of great expansion are still housed in the National Archives and available for viewing upon request. Many others have found their way into private and public collections and are remarkable for the way they represent the meeting of two formidable civilizations.
Museums within the United States have amassed sizable collections of American Indian art that has survived the hardship of war and climate. The Seattle Art Museum has a well rounded collection of many carvings, masks and textiles of the indigenous people of the Northwest as well as their more famous collection of Asian art. The Denver Art Museum also has a strong American Indian collection of art, showcasing art from American tribes from every region of North America. The collection is interactive and presents a well rounded tour of the various arts practiced by specific tribes. Pieces of American Indian art are an essential part of any well rounded collection of art, but with a greater context comes greater understanding.