Native American Sculptures

The dictionary defines sculpture as “ the art of shaping figures or designs in the round or in relief, as by chiseling marble, modeling clay, or casting in metal.” Native American sculptures make for lovely showpieces and are intricately made usually handcrafted. However, what is lesser known is that all the figures, masks, totem poles, and idols have some significance or story associated with them. For instance, the totem poles, which are often huge, are used to depict familiar legends, clan lineages, or notable events. These are perhaps, the most famous of all Native American sculptures. Certain totem poles are also meant to be installed at graves or burial sites.

They are not used in worship and the vertical order of images indicates the representation of importance. The most significant figures are found on the top of the totem pole. Yet another group of famous Native American sculptures are the Kachina dolls of the Hopi and Zuni tribes. Also known as Katsina dolls, they represent supernatural entities or spirits who influence the natural world. There are male and female Kachinas, but when representing these spirits in traditional dances or ceremonies only the men are given the privilege.  These masked dolls made by the Hopi are of cottonwood root while the Zuni make it with pine.

There are at least 300 Kachinas that figure prominently among the Native American sculptures. Ceremonial masks are yet another segment of Native American sculptures.  These masks could represent animals and spirits and are made of materials as diverse as wood, gourd, leather, and ivory. They are prominent in dances, storytelling, and for decorative purposes. In ancient times, while making a mask, an artist would go into seclusion to fully devote his mind and soul to the task at hand. Feathers, hair, gold, straw, and other materials are often added to enhance the effect.

Joseph Paige 2006

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