Natural Art

Social Studies/Art

Students acquaint themselves with the way artwork of early Native Americans incorporated aspects of their environment and everyday experiences, and students apply those principles in their own creative efforts.

What You Need

  • Reference materials with pictures of early Native American art from different regions, including your own
  • Magazines, museum catalogues, and so forth, with artwork, artifacts, clothing, accessories, and home furnishings, based on traditional motifs
  • Drawing materials

What to Do

  1. Ask groups of students to study pictures of early Native American art and discuss among themselves what they see in them. Stimulate discussion by having them consider the following ideas:

    • How the figures, patterns, and colors reflect what these early artisans saw around them (for example: natural surroundings, such as deserts, hills, rivers, or forests; animals; plants; hunting, fishing; work; social events).
    • A comparison of the pottery and other artwork of a people who lived in different regions (for example: desert compared to forest or seaside).
    • A comparison of the kinds of materials used by different groups (for example: seashells, grasses, leather, wood).

  2. Have the groups discuss among themselves what figures, patterns, and colors from their own region they might include in designing modern-day art or crafts.

  3. Have students work individually to apply their ideas to a design of their own. They might design a fabric pattern, an article of clothing (such as T-shirt, tie, scarf), jewelry (tie clips, earrings, rings), or home furnishings (such as chairs, rugs, vases). To stimulate their ideas, students can begin by looking through magazines and catalogues of Native American work.

  4. Display student work and invite other classes to view it. Or have students bind their sketches into a catalog, give it a suitable title, and share it with other classes.

Teaching Options

  • As part of the display, ask student designers to include a sketch or photo of the place, activity, or plant or animal that inspired their work. They might also include the same information in accompanying text.
  • Invite a local craftsperson, artist, or artisan to view the exhibit and to share the inspirations for her or his own work.
  • You may be able, with the cooperation of the school's art specialist, to have students carry through with their designs by creating the actual items.


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