Navajo Art: Why is it Special and What Shaped its Development

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Southwest’s Native American cultures portray a beautiful and varied heritage through their fine arts. Most of the designs and symbols prominent in Navajo craftwork represent ideas that are significant to their cultures and traditions. Images of rain, crops, animals, feathers, lightning, and other elements of nature are an important part of the centuries-old Native American art. This blog is to introduce you to a variety of Navajo arts and crafts, as well as the cultural, religious, and economic influences that have shaped their development.

From pottery to weaving to silver-work to turquoise, Native American’s visual work is vivid and has been celebrated by Navajos for decades. However, changing markets, new ideas and the introduction of new tools and materials have impacted the development of the artwork. Traditionally, Navajo artists made their creative pieces using organic, ephemeral materials. Extraordinary craftsmanship and intricate designs containing motifs and symbols honor the rich heritage and each craft has its own distinct history and spiritual meaning. But, as all craftwork has an economic purpose –to use, to buy or to trade, Navajo artists have traded their creations with various other tribes, such as Apache and Pueblo for centuries. The crafts were used by the Navajo people for their utility as a functional part of their everyday life or in religious ceremonies to barter for trade.

Navajo even adopted the use of materials not native to their culture and it is still practiced. The contemporary Native American artists use modern paints on commercially- tanned hides instead of earth paints on brain-tan. According to some artists, new materials simply work better. Others, especially Pueblo potters, have different opinions on the topic. They believe that there is still no replacement for the same materials that have been used in the past. However, If an artist tries to reproduce an existing museum piece by practicing a finely honed craft and fusing traditional and contemporary art, it becomes their own expression and rises to the level of Navajo. Modern-day Navajo nation arts and crafts blend traditional art with modern trends to pay respect to the centuries-old art form.

One can visit Navajo art galleries or shop for Native American art-inspired items to get a glimpse into the soul of the rich Navajo culture.