Understanding the Plateau’s Native American Culture through Unique Artistic Creations

Kent Antique Gallery is a collector’s online haven for extensive and diverse collections of Native American artifacts, art, and antiques from across the country. The quality and authenticity of our collection compete with some of the best native American collections in museums. Our inventory includes basketry, beadwork, jewelry, masks, pottery, pipes, clothing, totems and carvings, Navajo weavings, weapons, and much more.   

Preserving Culture of a People That Were Successful Advocates of Change

At the birth of the 16th century CE, as the European conquest of the Americas began, indigenous people occupied regions throughout the Western Hemisphere. They were soon decimated by the effects of military conquest, epidemic disease, and enslavement, and as with other colonized peoples, they fell subject to discriminatory political and legal policies well into the 20th, and even the 21st century. However, they are renowned as being among the most active and successful native peoples in achieving political change and regaining their autonomy in areas such as land ownership, education, religious freedom, the law, and the revitalization of traditional culture.

Here we dive into the lives of the people in the Plateau region and what inspired their art and architecture. Native American art, artifacts, and antiques are critical pieces for historical study. Each piece of art, weapon, cooking utensil, or clothing item is an expression of what they valued many decades and centuries ago and is a tangible representation of their society and what they stood for.

Great Basin and Plateau

The Plateau region, also known as the Intermontane and upper Great Basin, was the center of trade since the dawn of the archaic period. Therefore, Plateau people traditionally settled near major river systems and their art portrayed influences from other regions, including the Pacific Northwest coasts and Great Plains. 

The people of the Great Basin acquired extensive knowledge of the land and its natural cycles and patterned their lives to take full advantage of its diverse and abundant resources. Artifacts represent tools that mastered their daily activities to survive. They hunted small and large animals, including jackrabbits, antelope, and waterfowl; gathered pine nuts and wild berries; and dug roots and tubers. If the climate permitted it, some fished and farmed small plots. Trout, eels, suckers, and salmon were abundant in the rivers and skillful fishing was effective with one or three elongated fish spears, nets, and traps. 

These were resilient and adaptable people that flourished by intimately learning their environment. Sufficient food was harvested every summer and fall to carry them through the winter.

Land and Cultural Connotation 

Art pieces or objects used as daily tools can be categorized according to natural materials respective to a tribal homeland, as the various Native American cultures produced art that reflected their environment. For example, people living in heavily forested regions inevitably became gifted sculptors in woodwork, or those for whom clay was a major resource became skillful potters. 

Although many articles were used for containers, weapons, or fishing equipment, many were solely designed and reserved for ceremonial purposes. Understanding Native American history and their culture help people acknowledge that it is more than just art for its people. Native American Artifacts are often objects that hold a spiritual connection to their past and it pays homage to the creators of these objects. 

Plateau tribes placed a strong emphasis on design, where personal symbolism was just as important as tribal identity. There is a unique style that extends from Plateau tribes which are easily recognized by bold, geometric shapes and colors.

Some of the Plateau’s most popular artists included Nez Percé, Yakama, Umatilla, Warm Springs, and Wasco/Wishram. Nez Perce, Yakama, Umatilla, and Cayuse women weave flat, rectangular corn husks or hemp dogbane bags. 

Plateau bead-workers are known for their contour-style beading and their elaborate horse regalia. The Plateau people placed such high value on horses that Euro-American and European traders attested that Nez Percé, Walla Walla, Cayuse, and Flathead owned more horses than the tribes of the northern plains from as early as the 19th century onward.

Creative Inspiration and Process of Native American Artifacts

Although the Columbia River Basin was a major cultural epicenter for the people, Plateau tribes traveled to the Great Plains to hunt buffalo and trade horses with the Plains Natives and new inspiration for art was brought into the community and spread among the tribes. 

Men were artists and craft makers of pictorial paintings, weapons, carvings, and stone sculptures, while women were the principal artists of materials that were used for clothing and to store and carry goods. They mastered beadwork, quillwork, and woven basketry.

Western assessment of Native American art often emphasizes the product rather than the process, American Native artists, however, render specific attention around the creative process and interact with their materials at all stages of the creation. Ritual was often intertwined into the very process of creating American Native Art. Such rituals are of equal and often hold more importance than the artistic skill employed in the production of the work. Though not all Native American art was ceremonial or spiritual, as there was a substantial amount of common, amusing, and even profane art produced by most cultures.

Almost every natural medium was explored and mastered by the Native American, from turquoise to shell, jade, stone, metals, milkweed fiber, porcupine quills, deer hair, and sea lion whiskers - all of which were used to lend texture and color to the end product. And the tribes of the Plateau were no different in using their environment to create incredible pieces.

Kent Antique Gallery specializes in sourcing highly desirable Native American items from regions like the Plateau and other Native American hotbeds. We continuously add to our collection by connecting with reputable dealers and collectors in the industry. Visit our current inventory to view our exquisite range of authentic arts and artifacts to add the perfect piece to your collection.     

Contact Kent Antique Gallery today for authentic Plateau Native American artifacts and more.

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