Navajo artist, Eyedazzler, about 1885. Wool, cotton, and dye; 80 x 63 in. Denver Art Museum: Gift of The Douglas Society, 1995.76.

Indigenous Arts of North America

Navajo artist, Eyedazzler, about 1885. Wool, cotton, and dye; 80 x 63 in. Denver Art Museum: Gift of The Douglas Society, 1995.76.

Collection Highlights

No Two Horns

Shield

No Two Horns (Hunkpapa Lakota, 1852-1942), Shield, about 1870. Leather, paint, and feathers; 17 3/4 in. (diameter). Denver Art Museum: Gift of Rev. C. W. Douglas, 1932.237

Nez Perce artist

Shirt

Nez Perce artist, Shirt, about 1885. Leather, ermine, glass beads, and paint; 38 x 58 x 65 ½ in. (sleeves extended). Denver Art Museum: Native Arts acquisition funds, 1940.26

Tsomah Poolaw

Cradle

Tsomah Poolaw (Mrs. George Poolaw) (Kiowa, 1870-1958), Cradle, 1897-98. Wood, leather, glass beads, and metal; 45 x 13 x 10½ in. Denver Art Museum: Native Arts acquisition funds, 1941.42

Ochethi Sakowin (Sioux) or Brule Band artist

Robe

This rare example of a beaded "box and border" robe, made and used by women, is extremely unusual. Nearly all others of this style were painted on hide rather than beaded. The design is said to represent the internal organs of the bison.

Sicangu Lakota artist, Box and border robe, about 1870. Bison hide and glass beads; 94½ x 72 in. Denver Art Museum: Native Arts acquisition funds, 1948.144

Nellie Two Bear Gates

Pipe Bag

Nellie Two Bear Gates (Yanktonai Dakota, 1854-1935), Pipe bag, about 1885. Leather, glass beads, and porcupine quills; 32¼ x 7 in. Denver Art Museum: Native Arts acquisition funds, 1948.156

HOCK E AYE VI Edgar Heap of Birds

Wheel
Inspired by Native American architectural forms and the Big Horn medicine wheel in Wyoming, Wheel is composed of ten tree forms arranged in a circular shape that is fifty feet in diameter. The trees are aligned to the summer solstice—on June 21, the sun rises in an opening to the east between the first and last trees. Artist HOCK E AYE VI Edgar Heap of Birds covered the forked red tree forms with text and imagery related to the history of Indian people in the United States and indigenous peoples elsewhere. Each tree addresses a specific theme, from conflict over resources to global cooperation among indigenous peoples. In addition to the tree forms, the sculpture incorporates a curved exterior wall of the museum, where the Cheyenne words nah-kev-ho-eyea-zim appear in raised letters. The phrase means “We are always returning back home again.”

HOCK E AYE VI Edgar Heap of Birds (Cheyenne/ Arapaho, born 1954), Wheel, 1997-2005. Steel, porcelain, and stone; 144 x 24 x 24 in. (each fork); arranged in 50 ft. diameter circle. Denver Art Museum: Funds from Charles J. Norton by exchange, and funds from the Bonfils-Stanton Foundation, the AT&T Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Douglas Society, 1997.1452.1-11

Oscar Howe

Sioux Eagle Dancer
Oscar Howe challenged the definitions of Indian art with his unique and innovative style of creating figures in motion. By using lines and planes to emphasize movement, Howe both shocked and excited the Indian art world in the 1950s. Although some critics dismissed his work as derivative of European cubism, Howe maintained that his inspiration was firmly rooted in historic Sioux abstractions— such as those found in beadwork—as well as his own artistic creativity.

Oscar Howe (Yanktonai Dakota, 1915-1983), Sioux Eagle Dancer, 1954. Casein and damar paint on paper; 20 x 22 1/2  in. Denver Art Museum: Santa Fe Railroad Purchase Award, Fourth Annual Exhibition of Contemporary American Indian Painting, 1954.261. Courtesy Estate of Oscar Howe

Standing Bear, Attributed to

Tipi
Tipis were originally made of buffalo hides, but by 1875, with the decline of buffalo herds and the introduction of canvas, tipi makers shifted to using this lighter weight material. The drawings on the tipi show the artist’s personal experiences of intertribal battles between the Sioux and their Crow and Pawnee enemies. The warriors are rendered in scrupulously accurate detail that makes it possible to recognize different tribes by their distinctive hairstyles and clothing.

Attributed to Standing Bear (Minneconjou, 1859-1934), Tipi, about 1880. Paint, canvas, and wood frame; 184 x 252 x 156 in. Denver Art Museum: Native Arts acquisition funds, 1963.271

Nampeyo

Jar

The ancestors of the modern Hopi left evidence of rich pottery traditions. Villages such as Sikyatki, Awatovi, and Kawaikuh, inhabited from roughly 1400–1625, were close to Nampeyo’s home village of Hano and were actively being excavated at the end of the 1800s. Anthropologists and traders provided Nampeyo with firsthand opportunities to study the prehistoric ware found at these digs.
Nampeyo revived not only prehistoric patterns and forms in her work but also the traditional Hopi pottery-making process. By 1900, the artist had rediscovered Sikyatki clay sources. Rather than coating her pots with a colored slip, the artist painted her designs directly on the polished clay surface.
With her reputation established, Nampeyo soon began producing large, exceptionally painted pottery for a market of collectors. Though built upon prehistoric designs, vessels such as this represent a creative leap. The artist was no longer fashioning replicas but rather experimented with new designs as she fused elements of prehistoric patterns into innovative new compositions.

 

Nampeyo (Hopi, c. 1860-1942), Jar, 1900-1915. Clay and paint; 9 7/8 x 11 ¾ in. Denver Art Museum: Gift of C.W. Douglas, 1929.72

Roxanne Swentzell

Mud Woman Rolls On
Artist Roxanne Swentzell says about this sculpture: " When asked to create a piece for the Denver Art Museum, I wanted the viewer to start with a perspective of Earth and Mother. Having a Mother made of clay is an appropriate beginning to our Native world. We are all from this Mother, all from this Earth: made of her and will return to her. The Mother holds the largest child, who’s holding the next child, who’s holding the next and so on. I love the idea that we all come from the Earth, generation after generation; an endless family of life . . . We are the Mothers of the next generation and the daughters of the last. Male or female, in the Pueblo world, we are “Mothers” (nurturers) of the generations to come . . . In a world that supports life it’s our work now, as it was for our parents and ancestors before us, and it will become the work of our children. The Mother figure is very large; the children are more human size. From this, perspective viewers see their place in creation more clearly. They view themselves in the context of generations from the beginning of time into the future, all connected. To hurt one part of the chain of life is to disrupt the flow that nurtures the generations to come. I believe this story is certainly one that needs telling at this time."

Roxanne Swentzell (Santa Clara, born 1962), Mud Woman Rolls On, 2011. Unfired and fired clay and plant fiber; 120 ¼ x 151 ½ x 81 5/8 in. Denver Art Museum: Native Arts acquisition funds, 2010.570

Ason Yellowhair

Bird And Cornstalk Rug
Ason Yellowhair’s unique style is characterized by a large horizontal format, simple borders, and several rows of plants and birds running perpendicular to the weaving direction. She has shared her skill with her family, continuing a tradition that's been passed down from one generation to the next. This type of Navajo weaving is referred to as a pictorial rug. Although these rugs became common in the late 1800s, they were not sold as “art” until the 1900s. According to her daughter, Yellowhair based the stylized plants on Wrigley’s Spearmint Chewing Gum wrappers. The border is made up of a geometric pattern that is repeated all the way around the edge of the rug, framing the picture in the center.

Ason Yellowhair (Navajo, c. 1930-2013), Bird and Cornstalk Rug, 1983. Wool and dye; 94 x 131 in. The Gloria F. Ross Collection of Contemporary Navajo Weaving at the Denver Art Museum, 1984.4

Maria Martinez, Julian Martinez

Bowl
Maria Martinez is probably the most famous American Indian potter of the twentieth century. She worked closely with her husband, Julian Martinez, who sometimes painted designs on the pottery she sculpted. This pot is one of the first they created using the matte black on polished black technique—a technique that became their signature. Their innovation shaped a new tradition for San Ildefonso pottery and influenced many artists both within and outside the Indian community.

Maria Martinez and Julian Martinez (San Ildefonso, 1886-1880; 1885-1943), Bowl, about 1921. Clay; 8 ¾ x 14 in. Denver Art Museum: Gift of Frederic H. Douglas, 1954.454

Dan Namingha

Polacca #6
Dan Namingha comes from a family of distinguished artists. His great-great-grandmother was the famous potter Nampeyo, and many of his relatives are accomplished potters and carvers. As an abstract painter, Namingha seeks to transform images from his native experience into abstract, almost minimal forms. In Polacca #6, he incorporates the distinct silhouette of First Mesa, near Polacca on the Hopi reservation in Arizona, into a vivid abstraction of land and sky.

Dan Namingha (Hopi, born 1950), Polacca #6, 2001. Acrylic paint on canvas; 60 x 48 x 1 ½ in. Denver Art Museum: Gift of the Douglas Society, 2002.2

Daisy Taugelchee

Rug
Daisy Taugelchee is widely considered the most talented Navajo weaver and spinner who ever lived. This tapestry, in the Two Grey Hills style, is exceptionally fine—the weaving has more than ninety wefts and twenty warps per inch and took six miles of yarn to make. When the artist finished this rug in the late 1940s, she said she’d never again attempt anything so difficult.

Daisy Taugelchee (Navajo, 1911-1990), Rug, 1947-1948. Wool and dye; 69 ½ x 49 ½ in. Denver Art Museum: Native Arts acquisition funds, 1948.445

Yupik artist

Mask

Yupik artist, Mask, 1900. Wood, grass, feathers, paint, shell, and fish; 23 5/8 x 7 in. Denver Art Museum: Native Arts acquisition funds, 1953.396

George Walkus

Four-faced Hamat'sa Mask
Wood carving is a highly developed art among Northwest Coast tribes, including the Kwakwaka’wakw. This mask represents a bird-monster called Galokwudzuwis, or “Crooked Beak,” and is worn by a member of the Hamat’sa Society. Above the “crooked beak” is the head of a crane, while two raven heads project from the back of the mask. Although the photograph shows the mask’s graceful lines and bold, traditional colors of red, white, and black, it doesn’t show the complex moving parts that are worked by pulling a series of strings to create sound and movement during the dance.

George Walkus (Kwakwaka'wakw), Four-faced Hamat'sa Mask, about 1938. Wood, paint, cedar bark, and string; 21 x 51 in. Denver Art Museum: Native Arts acquisition fund, 1948.229

Nuu-chah-nulth artist

Harpooner's Hat
Whale hunting was a very important activity among the Nuu-chah-nulth peoples of Vancouver Island. A highly accomplished basketry artist intertwined strands of plant fiber to portray the pictorial hunting scenes on the sloping sides of this hat. Look closely to see how she created whales being chased by men in large canoes throwing their harpoons.

Nuu-chah-nulth artist, Harpooner’s Hat, 1794. Spruce root and bear grass; 10 3/8 x 9 ½ in. Denver Art Museum: Native Arts acquisition funds, 1952.607

Wailaki artist

Condor Cape
Artists in native California were masters at using the feathers of birds large and small. Here, the feathers of gigantic condors are accented with a few flicker feathers to make a resplendent cape. Imagine a dancer wrapped in these large wing feathers as they floated gracefully across his shoulders and back, accentuating his movements. Only a handful of these rare capes still exist today.

Wailaki artist, Condor Cape, late 1800s. Condor feathers and cord; 36 x 27 in. Denver Art Museum: Native Arts acquisition funds, 1950.150

Elizabeth Hickox

Container
Karuk artists of the 1800s wove exceptional baskets for home use as well as for ceremonial purposes. By the twentieth century, community needs diminished as hand woven baskets were replaced by commercial goods. The talented mother-daughter team of Elizabeth and Louise Hickox earned widespread recognition for the baskets they created for a new market of Anglo collectors. Drawing upon their formidable skills as weavers combined with their artistic vision, they created an entirely new basket form with graceful, incurving sides topped off with dramatic elongated knobs.

Elizabeth Hickox (Karuk, 1875-1947), Basket, about 1914. Plant fiber and porcupine quill; 5½ x 6 in. Denver Art Museum: Native Arts acquisition funds, 1950.249A-B

Harry Fonseca

Shuffle Off to Buffalo #V
In his art, Harry Fonseca transforms Coyote, the trickster character in California Indian stories, into a contemporary Native American figure. Fonseca often sets Coyote in an urban setting, dressed in a leather jacket and high-tops. He has become as much an assertive character as a humorous one. In this painting, Coyote takes the stage as Uncle Sam. Fonseca presents him as a stage actor and as an emblematic government figure. The glittering gold frame resembles frames used on Renaissance and baroque paintings—a reference to art history.

Harry Fonseca (Maidu), Shuffle Off to Buffalo #V, 1983. Acrylic paint and mixed media on canvas; 60 x 48 in. (152.4 x 121.9 cm). Denver Art Museum: William Sr. and Dorothy Harmsen Collection, by exchange, 2005.63. © 2016 Harry Fonseca Collection, Autry Museum of the American West

Creek artist

Bandolier Bag
Elaborately beaded bags created by Cherokee, Creek, and Seminole artists reflect the high point of the beadworkers’ art. While the shape of these men’s shoulder bags was most likely inspired by those worn by British soldiers in the 1700s, their designs were strictly native. Complex floral and geometric motifs intertwine from the point of the flap to the curve of the neck strap. Less commonly, humans and animals were depicted. The meanings of these patterns are largely lost, but they surely conveyed important personal and cultural information for both the weaver and the observer.

Creek artist, Bandolier Bag, about 1840. Cloth and glass beads; 31 ½ x 9 ¼ x 8 5/8 in. Denver Art Museum: Gift of Frederic H. Douglas, 1954.201

See More Indigenous Arts of North America

Browse objects from the Indigenous arts of North America collection in our online collection.

Publications

Recent DAM publications on American Indian art that the department has contributed expertise to include:

Companion to Northwest Coast and Alaska Native Art. Christopher Patrello, with Christoph Heinrich, John P. Lukavic, Gwaai Edenshaw, Marianne Nicolson, Sonya Kelliher-Combs, and Jaad Kuujus (Meghann O’Brien). Denver Art Museum, 2020.

Jeffrey Gibson: Like A Hammer. John P. Lukavic, with Glenn Adamson, Anne Ellegood, Jen Mergel, and Sara Raza. Denver Art Museum in association with Delmonico/Prestel, 2018.

Art in Motion: Native American Explorations of Time, Place, and Thought. John P. Lukavic and Laura Caruso with Kristin Dowell, Charlene Holy Bear, Aldona Jonaitis, Leena Minifie, Kent Monkman, and Daniel C. Swan. Denver Art Museum, 2016.

Super Indian: Fritz Scholder 1967–1980. John P. Lukavic, with Jessica Horton, Eric Berkemeyer, and Kent Logan. Denver Art Museum in association with Delmonico/Prestel, 2015.

Revolt 1680/2180: Virgil Ortiz. Edited by John Lukavic, essay by Charles King, foreword by Herman Agoyo. Denver Art Museum, 2015.

Grand Procession: Artistic Visions of American Indians, The Diker Collection at the Denver Art Museum. Lois Dubin. Denver Art Museum, 2010.

[Re]inventing the Wheel: Advancing the Dialogue on Contemporary American Indian Art. Edited by Nancy J. Blomberg. Denver Art Museum, 2010.

Action and Agency: Advancing the Dialogue on Native Performance Art. Edited by Nancy J. Blomberg. Denver Art Museum, 2010.

Breaking the Mold: The Virginia Vogel Mattern Collection of Contemporary Native American Art. Nancy J. Blomberg and Polly Nordstrand. Denver Art Museum, 2006.

Reflections of the Weaver’s World: The Gloria F. Ross Collection of Contemporary Navajo Weaving. Ann Lane Hedlund. Denver Art Museum, 1992.

Research & Symposia

The Denver Art Museum’s extensive research library consists of 20,000+ books and periodicals related to American Indian, First Nations, and Alaska Native arts and cultures. Additionally, the Native Arts department files include archival field notes and records from its nearly 100 year history.

Biannual Symposium on American Indian Art

Every other year the Native arts department hosts a symposium on topics related to American Indian art. Through this event the scholarly dialog on American Indian art is advanced.

Past symposia includes:

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The Martin Building Project

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