Spanning many centuries, the objects displayed here represent works from a broad range of native cultures, including the indigenous peoples of South America, the Pueblos of Mexico and Southwestern United States, and the Inuit of the Arctic regions of Alaska, Canada and Greenland. Originally created for utilitarian or ceremonial use, many of these works reflect the lives and values of the people who made them.
The native cultures of both North and South America held a deep respect for the land and the creatures that inhabit it. The choice of material reflected what was most readily available to the artist—ivory, antler, bone, clay and stone—and common motifs included animals, human and mythological figures, hunting scenes and geometric patterns. The art of the Inuit evolved over hundreds of years from small carvings and amulets to larger more sophisticated sculptures and often featured images of walruses, seals, fishing scenes and human figures (often of a mother and child) that were rounded and bulky-looking from wearing numerous layers of clothing. Living in the harsh Artic climate required stamina, strength and a strong spiritual connection with nature, which allowed the Inuit to live harmoniously within their environment. Images of birds, human figures and bold geometric designs were common among the artworks of other Native American cultures. The strong use of pattern seen on many of the ceramic vessels displayed here was distilled from the artists’ perceptions of their surroundings and often took the form of stylized feathers or waves, or the geometric shapes found in textiles.