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Native American Art

VMFA’s Native American art collection includes objects dating from prehistoric times to the present day. Geographic regions that are particularly well represented include the Arctic North, Northwest Coast, Plains, and Southwest. The collection encompasses a great variety of media, including textiles, ceramics, beadwork, sculpture, painting, and photography.

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VMFA’s Native American gallery includes many incredible and unique objects. A rare, quilled headdress from the Otoe people is one of only three known examples in museum collections worldwide. Mimbres ceramic vessels show the creativity and humor of artists in the ancient Southwest. A painted hide shirt from the Taos Pueblo draws inspiration from both Pueblo and Plains contemporaries. Meticulously beaded clothing attests to the care taken by Plains women to create objects of beauty for their families. This collection illustrates the long history and importance of artistic production among Native people.


Many variations exist among the basketry of different groups or regions, including form, technique, materials, and decorative elements. A weaver selects materials based on a combination of tribal tradition and personal choice, but also considers the material’s color, texture and suitability for the basket’s intended use. Other art forms are based on the art of basket weaving; textiles use many of the same techniques and pottery mimics some of the same vessel shapes and exterior decoration.

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Quillwork & Beadwork

East Coast and Plains tribes traditionally used porcupine quills to decorate a wide variety of items ranging from clothing to basketry. This labor-intensive form of decoration flourished until the mid 19th century when glass beads became easily attainable through trade with Europeans. This new medium provided artists more flexibility, resulting in more intricate patterns and a wider range of colors. Regional preferences are also apparent in the selected colors and motifs.

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The Southwest boasts a three-thousand-year record of continuous cultural history in religion, architecture, and the arts. Descendents of the Ancient Pueblo people of New Mexico and Arizona include the Hopi, Zuni, and Acoma as well as the Rio Grande Pueblos, and some of these communities have been inhabited for over a millennium. Contemporary ceramics are products of a tradition more than a thousand years old.

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Indigenous sculptors work in a variety of medium, including stone, wood, and bone; the choice of material generally relates to availability. For subject matter, artists have often chosen to depict the things with which they are most familiar: local fauna, humans, and mythical beings. Sculpture has been created as long as humans have inhabited North America, and today’s contemporary sculptors have inherited both a love of material as well as a regional aesthetic from their ancestors.

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Artist Videos

Artist Profile: Jeremy Frey

Discover the art of basket weaving with Jeremy Frey, who is known for his unique designs and his use of traditional and contemporary materials.