Native Americans have historically made widespread use of different symbols through many aspects of their culture. You can find a lot of these symbols in different works of art as well as artifacts from their society, as is true for most cultures. One of the most prominent symbolic elements used in American Indian art is color.
Let’s take a closer look at how color was used in Native American culture, so we can better understand what traditional artists may be trying to communicate through the hues they choose in their pieces.
Native American artists, like most artists, have traditionally used color to infuse both beauty and meaning into their works.
Different colors typically have different religious or spiritual meanings or represent different ideas. These meanings often vary based on specific tribes. For example, the Navajo tribe considers blue, white, yellow, and black to be representative of the four sacred mountains. The Apache tribe, on the other hand, substitutes green as a sacred color for blue.
Colors are representative of specific qualities, animals, elements of nature, or even concepts.
The symbolic value of color can be seen in many different aspects of traditional Native American society, aside from their art. The four directions, for example—north, south, east, and west—are typically represented by four individual colors. Color is also used to depict meaning in the Medicine Wheel, an image that signifies man’s lifespan in four phases: birth, growth, maturity, and death.
While color meaning does vary from tribe to tribe, there are some common hues that retain similar and multiple meanings across different groups. Some of the most prevalent of these colors include:
- Red—the Spiritual Life, wounds, blood, violence, war, earth, strength
- Blue—wisdom, sky & water, female, confidence
- Black—male, death, disease, warrior, aggression
- White—mourning, peace, snow
- Yellow—willingness to fight to the death, intellect, dawn, heroism
At the Faust Gallery, our collection of unique Native American art includes many colorful pieces that capture the true beauty and powerful meaning of their hues. Our exhibits feature both historical and contemporary museum-quality American Indian art, much of which is available for you to purchase for your personal collection.
Browse our selection online and feel free to contact our team with any questions about our galleries, current exhibitions, or available art!