California and the Pacific Northwest Introduction

Midterm Study Guide, VIS 126HN Native American Arts
of California and the Pacific Northwest
Pacific Coast Native Cultures and Arts—
Native California:
Great cultural and linguistic diversity characterizes
California native cultures. Tribes of southern California
include San Diego county’s Kumeyaay (Ipai, also known as
Diegeño) and Luiseño, the Cupeño and Cahuilla of San
Diego, Riverside, and Imperial Counties, as well as the
Mojave, Cocopa, and Quechan of the Colorado River area
near the Arizona border. The Tongva or Gabrieleño and
Chumash are native to the Los Angeles and Santa Barbara
areas. Central California tribes include the Yokuts, Pomo,
and Miwok cultures (among many others). Northern
California includes such groups as the Hupa, Yurok, Karok,
Shasta, Wiyot, and Wintu. Eastern California tribes of the
Lake Tahoe area and other regions bordering Nevada
include the Shoshone, Paiute, Maidu, and Washo peoples.
Only tribes living along the Colorado River practiced
agriculture, growing corn, beans, and squash, which they
learned from their Southwest neighbors in Arizona and
northern Mexico. All other California people lived as
hunter-gatherers, subsisting on wild foods. Men hunted and
fished for meat; women gathered wild plant foods including
acorns from the state’s abundant oak forests, other nuts and
seeds, wild grasses, roots, leaves, tubers, fruits, and berries.
Tribes practiced methods of land management, however.
Their methods included controlled burns to clear
underbrush likely to fuel wildfires, and tending important
plants used for food or basketweaving materials by
weeding around them, pruning to encourage their growth,
and cutting overhanging branches to provide them with
sunlight. Tribes also practiced limited hunting, harvesting,
and fishing, so that enough animals, fish, birds, and plants
would survive and reproduce to sustain their populations
and the balance of nature.
Tribes of northern California shared certain cultural traits
with their Northwest Coast neighbors in Oregon and
Washington, like the Chinook, Salish, and Makah. The
Eastern California tribes shared many cultural traits with
their neighbors in the Great Basin of Nevada. Southern
California tribes were related in language and many
cultural traits to the Yuman and Uto-Aztecan speaking
native groups of southern Nevada and western Arizona,
including the Hualapai, Yavapai, and Havasupai (notice the
same prefix in these tribal names that appears in the name
the Kumeyaay of San Diego call themselves—Ipai—“pai”
means “people” in the Yuman languages). Many linguistic
and cultural ties also link these southern groups with their
relatives in northern Mexico, and societies such as San
Diego’s Kumeyaay span the U. S. /Mexico border, with
members of their tribes living in Baja as well as Alta
(Upper) California.
1. Map of North American Indian Cultural Regions
2. Map of Native California tribes
3. Map of Native California Cultural Zones
4. California’s Language Diversity—Languages belonging
to seven major language families
Rock Art:
California is one of the world’s richest areas for rock art.
Rock art is a term that refers to any kind of design made
using stones or created on stone surfaces, including
geoglyphs (earth designs made by creating patterns with
stone), pictographs (designs painted on stone surfaces), and
petroglyphs (designs scraped, carved, abraded, or chiseled
into stone outcrops, boulders, caves, and cliffs). Rock art is
a revealing source of insight into a group’s patterns of land
use, ideas about the environment, and views of the spirit
California Indian rock art designs served many purposes,
from marking territorial boundaries between tribes and
marking paths and trails, to identifying the sacred spiritual
aspects of the landscape, and interacting with the spirit
world. Examples like the Colorado River geoglyphs,
consisting of giant earth figures, relate to pilgrimage rituals
in which Yuman-language tribes like the Mohave, Cocopa,
and Quechan traveled great distances to visit holy sites.
Most of these appear to be between 2900-800 years old.
Below: Geoglyphs, or giant earth figures located near
Blythe, California. The largest of these Blythe Giants earth
figures is over 160 feet long, and probably represents the
creator spirit Mastamho. More than 200 of these figures
are located along the banks of the Colorado River between
Newberry Peak, Nevada, and the Sea of Cortez.
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Like the similar Nazca lines located on the south coast of
Peru, the Yuman tribal geoglyphs were made by scraping
aside a surface layer of rocks darkened by mineral deposits
called “desert varnish,” exposing a lighter layer of soil
underneath. Both the Colorado River geoglyphs and Peru’s
Nazca lines depict giant figures—the Nazca lines include
figures of a monkey, a spider, and more—and both appear
to have been related to pilgrimage across a landscape
associated with myth and sacred events.
Cupules, clusters of pitted depressions ground into boulders
and rock outcrops, are features of many locations used for
girls’ puberty ceremonies, and are related to beliefs about
the life-giving powers of Mother Earth. Pictographic
paintings in caves and on the walls and ceilings of rock
overhangs were often made by shamans, spirits intercessors
who mediated between the human community and the spirit
world. Pictographs and petroglyphs alike might record
visions these medicine men (and sometimes women)
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experienced during trance states achieved through the use
of hallucinogenic substances or other means (meditation,
fasting, dancing, rhythmic music, etc.) The most widely
used plant hallucinogen was a tea brewed from the roots of
Datura Inoxia, or Jimson weed, although hallucinogenic
mushrooms, morning glory seeds, and other common
psychoactive plants were also available. Some designs
relate to native astronomical knowledge and observations
of the sun, moon, and stars at specific seasons of the year.
In the eastern deserts and mountains near Bishop, many
petroglyphs were associated with shamanistic rain-making
Above: Pitted boulder with cupules located at a place
where girls underwent puberty initiations into adulthood,
Anza Borrego Desert State Park, east of San Diego.
Nearby are girls’ rock painting designs. This is also an
example of a kind of rock art location often known as a
“Ringing Rock” or “Bell Rocks” formation, after the clear,

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bell-like sound produced by striking these stones with a
smaller handstone. The sound produced could be heard for
up to half a mile, and produced a kind of musical
accompaniment for ceremonies.
Women and men alike made rock art, usually with notable
differences in style (sometimes they used different colors
and imagery) and at different locations, which were often
places used to perform the rituals specific to each gender.
Women made cupules, grinding the pits into boulders and
rock surfaces during ceremonies that initiated young girls
into adulthood, as the girls were instructed about puberty,
menstruation, pregnancy, childbirth, and caring for infants.
Women would also grind cupules when they went to
specific sacred locations to pray for the birth of a child.
Such locations are sometimes called “Baby Rocks,”
because of this practice. Women hoping to conceive a child
would grind a little rock powder from these pits and place it
on their bellies or in their vaginas, believing that sexual
intercourse afterward would certainly conceive a child.
This practice reflects Native California beliefs in the
feminine, life-giving forces of the earth, which was
regarded as the mother of all life. Grinding rock powder
from the cupules was a way for women to enhance the
feminine, maternal powers of their bodies, by associating
themselves with Mother Earth.

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Above: red-painted pictographs made by young girls during
their puberty initiations, Blair Valley, east San Diego
County. Notice the rattle-snake diamond
chains and zig-zag designs, which resemble a snake’s
imprint in the soil.
Puberty Initiation Ceremonies and Rock Art Designs:
Young girls and boys also painted rock art designs during
their puberty ceremonies, which initiated them into
adulthood. Girls’ rock paintings on cliffs, boulders, and
other rock faces were made with red paint, and contained
geometric figures such as zigzag lines and diamond chains.
Many of these designs represent the rattlesnake, a spiritual
guardian associated with Mother Earth and feminine
fertility. The rattlesnake was regarded as a special guardian
of women and young children, and was an important spirit
for girls entering into adulthood.
Some rock art appears to have been made for astronomical
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purposes, and appears in locations that may have served as
observatories for the movements of the sun, moon, and
stars. Some designs, such as the sunburst paintings at Blue
Sun Cave in the Anza Borrego Desert, appear to be
astronomical symbols, depicting sun, moon, constellations,
and stars.
Often, mysterious and beautiful rock art designs represent
the visionary experiences and ritual activities of shamans,
whose interactions with the spirit world are depicted in
many rock art designs. Some of the most beautiful and
elaborate of these are Chumash, made by shamans of this
large, sophisticated cultural group whose territories
extended from Malibu in the Los Angeles area east into the
deserts of the Carrizo Plains and north to Santa Barbara and
the coastal Channel Islands.

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Above: part of a 40-foot long pictograph panel from
Carrizo Painted Rock, east of Bakersfield. Now badly
damaged, this pictograph is reproduced in a painting by
Disney artist Campbell Grant, who studied and documented
pictographs throughout the Chumash area. Features of this
rock art style represented here include fantastic
zoomorphic, or animal-like, and anthropomorphic, or
human-like forms, as well as starbursts, pinwheels,
concentric circles, repeating geometric patterns like parallel
lines, diamonds, and zigzags, and figures undergoing
transformation. Shamans experienced these visions under
the influence of a psychotropic plant called Jimson weed,
or Datura inoxia.
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Chumash pictograph panel
Above: flowers of the Datura, or Jimson weed plant—
deadly and dangerous, but used as a plant hallucinogen by
shamans and in various California Indian ceremonies.
This hallucinogen produces vivid color visions, but is also
highly toxic and dangerous to use. Many of the geometric
patterns common in this style of rock art such as the
starbursts, pinwheels, parallel lines, zigzigs, etc., have been
interpreted by some scholars as representing phosphenes or
entoptics, which are inner light sensations produced in the
brain’s visual cortex during states of altered consciousness.
Phosphenes are experienced as brilliant light patterns that
appear to be superimposed over the visible world, and they
can recur for months after the initial vision. These are
universal human experiences of altered states of
consciousness, and can be produced during states of trance.
This pictograph panel lies within a passageway between the
twin rock outcrops illustrated below. Seen from the air,

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Carrizo Painted Rock resembles a woman’s womb or vulva,
an entryway into the Earth Mother’s birth canal. This
feature, which stands alone on the Carrizo Plains,
apparently was a holy location visited by the Chumash and
neighboring tribes for many generations. A well-worn trail
winds up the rock outcrops to their summit, where other
pictograph designs are found.
Also related to the idea of the feminine, life-giving earth
are certain kind of petroglyphs—the kind of rock art made
by chipping, chiseling, or abrading a rock surface with a
sharp stone—that are known as “yonis,” or “earth mother
genitals.” This term is not from an American Indian
language, but comes from the Sanskrit language of the
ancient Hindu religion in India. It is applied to these
Native California rock art designs because, like the Hindu
yoni concept, they refer to the concept of a universal
mother of all life. These yoni symbols appear throughout
southern California, and were made and used by male
shamans in their rituals that called on the life-giving
powers of Mother Earth.
The example shown below is located in the Anza Borrego
State Park of eastern San Diego County. This design was
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made by modifying a naturally occurring pattern of cracks
in this rock outcrop.
Rock art in California also provides some of the earliest
clues to the settlement of the Americas by ancient ancestors
of today’s North American Indians. The red-painted
pictographs shown below are located in Tecolote Cave in
the Mojave Desert, and have been scientifically dated to
about 9,300 years ago. The meanings of these designs,
including concentric circles, linear forms, and comb-like
features, is unknown, but they are well-preserved on the
ceiling of this cave where they have been protected for
thousands of years from rain, wind, and blowing sand.

These paintings date to the last great ice age, the
Pleistocene, which ended about 8,000 years ago. This is
the period of time when modern humans (Homo Sapiens)
evolved from earlier human populations in southern or
eastern Africa, and during a period around 70.000-50,000
years ago, began to immigrate out of Africa to populate
other regions of the world. Extreme cold that froze much
of the ocean’s waters and waters on land into ice sheets in
northern and southern areas near the planet’s poles
probably led to drought in areas near the equator, probably
helping encourage these early ancestors to leave Africa for
cooler, moister areas further north.
As groups of these modern humans moved through the
Middle East and into Asia, they met Neanderthal
populations (Homo Neanderthalensis) and mixed with
them, perhaps exchanging women as wives in friendly
relations involving trade and alliances, or women and
children may have been captured in raids between the
groups and adopted into families. Those groups of modern
humans who moved further north and east into Asia then
encountered a second older population of humans called the
Denisovans, after Denisova Cave in Russia where a few of
their fossils have been discovered. The Denisovans,
cousins of the Neanderthals, again intermixed with the
modern human groups, leaving behind traces of their DNA,
added to the Neanderthal and modern human DNA of
Asian populations.
As a result of these encounters between modern humans
and earlier populations, all of today’s people who are of
European and Asian descent have a small percentage of
Neanderthal DNA—usually between 1-3% of their overall
genome, varying for particular individuals. In addition,
people of Asian ancestry also have a small percentage of
Denisovan DNA—between 3-5% for different individuals.
People of sub-Saharan Africa are the only people on earth
who lack Neanderthal and Denosovan DNA—they descend
directly from the original ancestors of Homo Sapiens.
From Neanderthals people outside Africa seem to have
acquired some aspects of their immune systems—important
for resistance to diseases those early populations
encountered long ago—and from Denisovans, some Asian
populations, like the inhabitants of Tibet, acquired genetics
that help them to survive at very high altitudes. American
Indian people have both Neanderthal and Denisovan as
well as modern human elements in their DNA, one of
many traits that indicate their close ancestral ties with
people in northeast Asia, including Siberia, Mongolia, and
northern China.
These are some factors that shed light on the migration of
Native American ancestors to the Americas, a topic that has
prompted many theories and kinds of speculation, some
scientific, some highly speculative or downright fantastic.
Some of the earliest speculations on the part of European
colonists and even scholars of the 17th-early 20th century
included the theory that American Indians descended from
the Seven Lost Tribes of Israel—this idea persists in some

areas today, as in Mormon religion, which still traces
Native American origins to the Bible. Other ideas that
circulated among scholars and in the popular imagination
described Native people of the Americas as survivors of the
legendary lost continent of Atlantis, or as descendants of an
ancient Egyptian migration that crossed the Atlantic to
settle the New World. In the 1970’s the writings of an
author named Eric Von Daniken in a book titled Chariots of
the Gods popularized the idea that American Indians and
other cultures in the world descended from, or were
influenced by, alien visitors to the earth many centuries
ago. Today, scholars understand far more about Native
American origins and early settlements in the Americas,
although many mysteries remain. The main source for
migrations to the Americas lies in Asia, and settlement took
place during the Ice Age, when lower ocean levels and
massive continental ice sheets left areas of land exposed
that offered easier access for moving between the planet’s
landmass areas.
One of these features that was submerged during the
warmer periods in the Ice Age, but emerged from the sea as
dry land during its colder cycles was the Bering Strait land
bridge, called Beringia, that connected Siberia with Alaska.
There is evidence that this land bridge was exposed at
several times during the Ice Age, allowing for animals like
the horse that evolved in the Americas to cross over into
Asia, and animals from Asia, such as the musk ox, to cross
over into Alaska. People also could have crossed at these
times. Archaeology in Alaska shows that people did
migrate to Alaska from Asia several times, although in
some periods they couldn’t move further south, because the
route was blocked by ice sheets and glaciers closing the
way. Fossils of some of these people look more European,
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others more Asian in their DNA—they seem to have stayed
in Alaska and intermingled there. However, a few times in
the late Ice Age, people could have both crossed the land
bridge and moved further south, when the glaciers blocking
their path began to melt and retreat. One of these times
was around 12,000-13,000 years ago, and that is the period
of time when virtually all scholars accept that people were
migrating throughout the Americas.
The Tecolote Cave pictographs date from a couple of
thousand years after that time. However, there are
pictographs that have been dated to even earlier times than
9,300 years ago, and excavations of settlement areas where
carbon from firepits and other organic materials have been
radiocarbon dated thousand of years earlier. Radiocarbon
dating involves using a constant based on the radioactive
decay of the carbon 14 isotope to date materials that have
organic contents (thus, charcoal from fires, bird egg that
might have been mixed into rock art pigments, bone fossils,
and other organic materials containing carbon can be dated
in this way). Some extremely early dates, ranging from
40,000 to 14,500 years ago, have come from certain
locations, including some as far away as Chile and Brazil.
Pictographs in Brazil dated 30-40,000 years ago have
caused some Brazilian archaeologists to propose that a
direct migration of human ancestors from Africa might
have occurred about that time, when lower sea levels
decreased the open ocean distance between Africa and
South America. A watery bog in Monte Verde, Chile,
preserved some remains of buildings in a settlement—some
sort of huts that housed a community some 14,500 years
ago (anaerobic bacteria in bogs often preserve wood and
other organic materials). Remains of about 30 individuals
were also found. The Monte Verde data has gained general
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scholarly acceptance for people living in Chile that long
ago—and it would have taken some time for people from
Siberia to migrate that far south! Evidence like this has
played an important role in persuading archaeologists to
look for explanations besides the Berengia land bridge to
explain people traveling to the Americas, and to consider
the possibility of Native American people arriving in more
than one migration.
An interesting possibility that is supported by certain
evidence is that people may have arrived in the Americas at
various times, traveling by boat or raft, and following the
coastlines. This is the way today’s Arctic people, the Inuit,
travel across the areas they inhabit, from eastern Siberia to
Alaska, northern Canada and Greenland. (The Inuit are
also called Eskimos—a term meaning “eaters of raw
meat”—but Inuit is their preferred name). Scholars
theorize that many people living in the Ice Age lived near
the coastlines of Europe and Asia, where ocean currents
would have made the climate warmer, and where they had
access to hunting sea mammals, fishing, and using other
marine resources. The Inuit have such a lifestyle today, and
they rely on coastlines and coastal ice flows for hunting,
fishing, and traveling by sea.
Boats are easy to make from logs (like dug-out canoes), as
well as wooden frames covered with animal hides and
skins. The Inuit used two watercraft of this kind—the oneman kayak, and the larger umiak, which was large enough
to move households, families, and even villages. Both types
of boats were made by creating a frame of saplings lashed
together with cord or sinew (connective tissue from
animals), and then covered with the hides of seals or
walruses that were waterproofed by rubbing them with
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animal fat. Ancient people could have easily made boats
like this and traveled down the coastline from Alaska to
areas further south, even potentially reaching South
America in a few generations.
Above, a group of Inuit men and women traveling by
umiak, around 1900. Is this like the way early Native
American ancestors traveled from Asia to settle the
Indeed, some of the earliest human fossil remains from the
Americas have been found in areas of the West Coast, from
Kennewick Island in Washington (9,000 years old), to the
Channel Islands near Santa Barbara (13,000 years old), to
La Jolla (9,500 years old). These remains and associated
settlement and burial excavations may provide important
evidence for
California Native basket weaving:
Basketweaving was one of the most significant crafts of
California Indian people, a demanding and difficult
technology that served almost every possible function in
their societies—from providing for food gathering and
preparation, to storage and transportation, to making
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clothing and even shelters—many tribes constructed
dwellings thatched with tule reeds or woven mats as a
covering. People slept on woven mats and used them to
cover floors, and they used woven nets and traps for fishing
and hunting. Men and women both wore caps woven of
basketry fibers, and clothing items such as women’s skirts
could be made of woven plant fibers. In the photograph
below, a young mother from northern California’s Karok
tribe weaves a basket while her infant sleeps in a basketry
cradle. Her cap is made from basketry material, as is her
skirt. A half-finished smaller basket rests beside her, as
well as a large, cone-shaped basket with an open top and an
attached strap for carrying. This is a burden basket,
carried on the wearer’s back with a strap called a tumpline
that passes over her forehead. This type of basket is a
container for transporting
Below: a Karok mother weaves a basket while her infant
sleeps in a basket cradle (1894)
all sorts of goods, from firewood to nuts, acorns, berries,

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fruits, leaves, grass seeds, roots, and other useful parts of
plants that could be used to prepare medicines and food.
Gathering such items from the environment was an
important aspect of women’s work, as well as cooking and
preparing food, weaving baskets, making clothing, and
caring for the home and family.
Baskets are a testament to California Native peoples’
relationships with their environment—their extensive
ethnobotanical knowledge of plants used for food,
basketweaving, making clothing, homes, fishing nets,
arrows, bows, and spears, and many kinds of medicines,
teas, poultices for treating wounds, and other medicinal
purposes. Tribal relationships to the environment were
sophisticated and included methods for maintaining a
beneficial relationship with nature. While California
Native people generally did not farm, they did maintain
their environment in many ways, including using controlled
burns to manage undergrowth and prevent wildfires, and
tending wild plants that were valuable for their uses, by
weeding around them, pruning them to promote growth,
and cutting back vegetation to provide them with sunlight.
Hunting and fishing limits were observed to ensure an
abundance of animals and fish. Hunting, fishing, and even
gathering plants for food or basket weaving fibers were
conducted with respect and care for these resources.
Prayers of thanks and suitable offerings, like tobacco and
sage, sacred aromatic plants, were offered to the spirits of
animals taken in the hunt in exchange for their sacrifice.
Women offered their prayers of thanks to the plants that
provided them with food or weaving materials, and they
always asked permission from the spirits of these plants
before taking only as much as they needed for the task at
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Basketweaving was a women’s craft, in large part because
of its importance to their assigned tasks in the gender
division of labor. However, men might make nets and
openwork baskets used as fishtraps, baskets used as snares
for small animals, or especially large, sturdy baskets for
carrying heavy loads. Today, some men weave baskets to
help preserve this aspect of tribal knowledge. Women
would go out every day to harvest plants in the forests,
meadows, mountains, bogs, beach, and desert ecosystems.
Because different food sources were best harvested
seasonally, California tribes were generally migratory,
migratory, moving between seasonal camps or villages to
take advantage of foods in different ecosystems. Summers
would often be spent near the coastline, fishing and
gathering shellfish from the beaches; in fall, they would
move into the inland valleys and mountain slopes to harvest
ripening acorns, nuts, and berries. Acorns were the main
food staple for California tribes; they are nutritious, and if
their meat is soaked to remove the bitter tannic acid, they
are edible, and could be eaten whole, toasted, or ground to
make flour. Women carrying burden baskets on their backs
would move through the environment, with the basket’s
tumpline leaving their hands free to gather acorns, berries,
grass seeds, fruits, and other wild foods.

Above: a beautiful Pomo burden basket from northern
California. A burden basket is generally shaped like a
truncated cone, with a wide, flaring mouth at top. This one
is woven from redbud bark (reddish-brown) and sedge root
(tan), in swirling bands that contain zigzag and diamond
Above: two Paiute women harvesting wild foods using
burden baskets, northwest Arizona, 1873. Notice also their
basketry caps and the wide, flat baskets they carry.
The photos below show the beauty of basketry caps worn
by California tribal people, and their styles of attire. The
necklace below is made of glass beads, acorns, nuts,
abalone, clam shell, and dentalium (resembling fangshaped teeth) shell beads.
This cap and necklace above is Chumash, from Southern
Below is the “prayer” outfit worn by a young Hupa-Karok
girl from northern California for the ceremonies of her
puberty initiation. Each design, material, and aspect of her
attire represents a specific kind of prayer for her
relationship to the spirit world and the health and wellbeing
of her future life. Notice her basketry cap, beaded seashell
necklace, and skirt made of woven plant fibers.
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The close relationship that women have to the earth as a
nurturing, feminine source of food and all human, plant,
and animal life is reflected in women’s labor in gathering
and preparing food, weaving and sewing garments for their
families, making cradles and sleeping baskets for young
It is even possible to cook in a basket, if it is woven tightly
enough. A well-woven basket can hold water for a couple
of days without leaking. A coating of tar (from natural
petroleum seeps) or pitch from pine tree or other sap or
resin adds to the basket’s water-tight uses.

Above, a Karok woman from Northern California cooks in
a basket bowl, 1924 (photo by Edward Curtis). The
method involves filling the basket with water, and then
dropping red-hot rocks into the water until it boils. Baskets
were used to cook soups, stews, and porridges (rather like
oatmeal, made from seeds or acorn meal), and acorn-meal
biscuits that were rather like dumplings.
Below: a group of Miwok baskets from Central California
used to serve traditional foods, including acorn soup and
dumpling-like biscuits made from acorn meal. Food was
cooked, served, and eaten in baskets, with smaller baskets
used for individual servings, and larger baskets for groups.
Especially large baskets were made for feasting, an
important part of ceremonial life. Feasting, sharing food
with others as a community, is an important element of
most Native American celebrations throughout North
America. Thanksgiving is based on such customs, which
were observed by Native tribes from New England to the
West Coast.
In the photograph below, a woman from the Nisenan tribe
of Northern California harvests wild grass seeds by
knocking them into a burden basket with a scoop-shaped
basket called a seed beater. The seed beater is made with
an open-work weave so that it will allow the small grass
seeds to fall through it into the burden basket. It has a long
wooden handle that allows the user to shake the tall grass
stems with the beater basket, so that dried, ripened seeds
will fall off to be collected. These seeds can be toasted,
eaten raw, or ground up to make flour.


The photograph above illustrates the variety of California
Native baskets, their designs, decoration, and purposes.
You may recognize the large scoop-shaped basket at the


left as a seed beater. Large, flat basket trays like the one at
upper left were often used for winnowing or toasting acorns
and seeds. Winnowing means sifting grain by tossing it, so
that the wind will blow away seed hulls or chaff, while the
seed meat falls back into the basket. Seeds were toasted by
tossing them in a flat basket with hot coals, although the
coals had to be kept moving fast to keep them from
burning the basket. Wide, flat basket trays were also used
in gambling games in which pairs of nut shells or bones
were tossed like dice, and players guessed how they would
land. The round bowl at right is for cooking or serving
food. The oval shaped basket could be used for serving
food or storage of personal items. The two small baskets
covered with beads and feathers are “jewel” or “gift”
baskets, a type of ceremonial basket the Pomo people of
northern California used to serve as special gifts for girls
and women, given at important occasions in their lives.
Jewel baskets were beautifully decorated with colorful
feathers from various kinds of birds—the red topknot
feathers from woodpeckers, the yellow feathers from
flickers and meadowlarks, blue feathers from bluejays and
bluebirds, green feathers from the mallard duck. Black
feathers often came from the topknot feathers of quail.
Bird quills would be inserted into the weave of these
baskets to create colorful feather mosaic designs. The
baskets would also be decorated with strings of white
clamshell beads sewn to their rims, and dangling pendants
of iridescent abalone shell strung on strands of clamshell
beads. These baskets represented all the treasures of earth,
sky, and sea—the bounty of plants that gave their stems,
roots, and fibers for the basket, birds of the air, and jewels
from the sea. Seashells were greatly treasured by Indian
people across Western North America, and Native

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California people used to trade white clamshell beads like
those used on these baskets as a form of currency, like
Above: a splendid Pomo jewel basket with red and black
feathers, strings of circular white clamshell beads, and
dangling pendants made of abalone shell.
A mother might make such a beautiful basket as a gift for a
daughter when she was about the age of puberty, and
instruct the girl to keep it and care for it throughout her life,
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for her fortunes and wellbeing were closely tied to the care
of this basket. Female relatives might make such a basket
for a woman who was an expectant mother, to
commemorate the birth of her child. Women might receive
such baskets as gifts from their groom’s female relatives as
wedding presents. Women would often be buried or
cremated with their prized baskets in their funeral
ceremonies, so that these treasures would accompany them
to the afterlife. Often, more special baskets would be
created as offerings for a woman’s funeral, to be cremated
in her memory at her funeral or on the annual mourning
anniversaries of her death. Many an anthropologist or art
collector would try to persuade Pomo people not to burn
these magnificent baskets with their owners; some have
found their way into museums or private art collections.
Above: an example of a basket type made for fun and
entertainment—this Tulare basket is a wide, flat tray used

= – I

for gambling with pairs of nut shells, sticks, or bones that
were tossed like dice. Players guessed how the shells or
sticks would land. This huge tray probably took a year or
longer to create. It features bands of decoration that feature
diamonds in red and black—sometimes these bands refer to
the scale patterns of the rattlesnake—as well as abstract
human figures holding hands. The latter also suggests the
idea of gathering and entertainment, especially the round
dances popular with many Western tribes.
The photo above shows a dancer from the Maidu tribe of
northern California, wearing a headdress that partly masks
his face that is made of yellow and black flicker feathers,
as well as attire decorated with fur, clamshell beads, and
abalone shell pendants. The dances of Native American
people became popular events for tourists visiting from the
Eastern United States after the construction of the railroads
– –

– –

across the Southwest in the 1880’s. made travel to the West
safe, comfortable, and fast compared to other transportation
of that time.
Below are two examples of railroad advertising posters that
promoted tourism to the Western U. S. using Native
American cultures as attractions. The left one features the
portrait of an Indian chief (the rail line itself is called “The
Chief”!) wearing a larged feathered bonnet of the kinds
worn by the Plains Indians (notably, not the Indians of the
Southwest or California!) –this was a popular image of
what Indians in the West were like, and it appealed to the
imagination of Eastern tourists. The right poster advertises
a California connection that branched off from the Santa Fe
Railroad that ran through New Mexico and northern
Arizona. It features a Native American brave wearing a
breechcloth and feathered headdress who plays a traditional
cedar flute. From the 1880’s into the 20th century (and even
still today), tourism to the West has been popularized by the
opportunity for visitors to experience exotic indigenous
cultures, through Native music, dance, and arts such as
pottery, basketry, textiles, Native American silver and
turquoise jewelry, etc. The heyday of such tourism lasted
into the 1970’s, including travel by car (using Route 66),
train, and air travel.
The railroads, however, started the Western tourist craze,
and even the famous Highway 66 as a route of travel for
visitors to the Southwest followed the route of the Santa Fe
railroad. The railroads published a wide array of items—
posters, travel pamplets and brochures, calendars, and
postcards illustrated with colorful, romantic, exotic scenes
of Native American culture, dance, art, and ways of life.
Notice that the left hand poster also mentions the Fred
Harvey Company’s dining service and Indian Detours—
two of the hospitality features that the Fred Harvey
Company established along the routes of the railways. The
Harvey Company was founded in 1876, and established a
chain of hotels, restaurants, and other hospitality services
throughout the West, in partnership with the Atchison,
Topeka, and Santa Fe Railroad. Below, you can see a photo
of one of the famous Harvey House hotels and restaurants,
the Casa del Desierto, built in Barstow, California, in 1911.
The Fred Harvey Company established the first restaurant
chain in the U. S., and originated the “Blue Plate Special,”
a meal discount served on a blue-decorated china plate. Its
hotels and restaurants were staffed by “Harvey Girls,”
adventurous young women whose jobs at these
establishments enabled them to live in the “Wild West.”
The Fred Harvey Company made traveling to the West
comfortable, elegant, and, with the railroad, helped to
f a
aging Native American culture as attraction
establish popular images of the West as a region with
picturesque Native cultures, natural wonders like the Grand
Canyon, and a colorful history that was all too threatened
by the advances of progress and civilization. Tourists were
eager to see the West, its wild landscapes, and Native
American cultures—“the vanishing frontier”—before they
were lost to the modern, industrial world.
When travel by automobile became common, the Harvey
Company established its “Indian Detours” (founded 1926),
which offered guests staying at its hotels an opportunity to
visit tribes in a guided tour. Tourists were provided with a
chauffeur and a courier, who served as a guide or hostess,
and travel in a luxury Cadillac or Packard automobile.
Women became an important part of the West during this
era, when travel by railroad, Harvey House
accommodations, and employment as a Harvey courier or
Harvey Girl created opportunities beyond those available to
women in earlier times. People rarely traveled to the West
for pleasure before the railroads were constructed—travel
through the region was rough, dangerous, uncomfortable,
and generally slow. Women either came to the frontier as
settlers’ wives, occasionally as schoolteachers, or as saloon
girls and prostitutes—not respectable forms of work for
women. Fred Harvey employees, however, had prestigious
and respectable employment, and many became influential

W xD
figures in the emerging business of tourism, in the new
discipline of anthropology, in museums and national parks
being built in the West.
For example, above is a 1930 photo of one of the young
women who was employed as a Fred Harvey courier for its
Indian Detours service. She is posing in the patio of Santa
Fe, New Mexico’s recently established Museum of Fine
Arts. Many of these Harvey employees were college
educated, and these young women were trained to inform
their guests about the tribes they visited, as well as how to
interact with Native communities, and how to converse
with them in Spanish (many Native people in the West
spoke Spanish as well as their own languages). Harvey
couriers would accompany guests on guided tours to visit
tribes in locations like Death Valley, Yosemite, and the
Grand Canyon. They were among the new generation of
women who were educated themselves, and who educated
others about Native cultures. Some of these new women
tourists, guides, and anthropologists to go West were also
wealthy—they included prominent heiresses to fortunes
made back east—and they became influential as patrons,
researchers, and educators about Native American arts and
culture—especially basketweaving and other crafts
practiced by Indian women.
Above: photo showing pioneering anthropologist Lila
O’Neale conversing with Yurok basketweaver Nellie Billie
Cooper in 1929, Northern California.
A number of pioneers in the study of Native American arts
and culture were such women, like UC Berkeley-educated
anthropologist Lila O’Neale. She wrote her doctoral
dissertation on basketry of the California Indians,
supervised by another major figure of California Indian
anthropology, Berkeley professor Alfred Kroeber.
O’Neale’s method was exceptional and ahead of its time,
because, rather than just describing and classifying
examples of basket types, she developed collaborative
relationships with the women from tribes like the Yurok
and Karok who served as her consultants.
O’Neale offered Native American women the unheard-of
opportunity to speak thoughtfully about their craft, and
express their views on methods, techniques, and standards
for making, designing, and decorating baskets. O’Neale
found them very eloquent in discussing their craft, and
admirable for their keen judgment of quality and excellence
in design. Ideas about artistic beauty—known as aesthetics
—were widely viewed as relating only to the arts and
philosophical writings of Europe and Western civilization.
Groups such as Native Americans were widely regarded in
academic and popular culture as too ignorant, too
inarticulate, and too “primitive” to have such sophisticated
ideas, or to be capable of communicating them to others.
O’Neale’s work demonstrated otherwise—that women
from these tribes thought about beauty, artistry, skill, and
design in sophisticated ways, and were fully capable of
making their judgments known.
The Victorian period—the decades of the late 19th-early 20th
centuries spanned by the reign of England’s Queen Victoria
(who was a trend-setter for societies on both sides of the
Atlantic)—was a major era of basket collecting as well as a
vogue for hand-made crafts of many kinds. Transportation
revolutions—the railroads, travel by steamship, and
eventually automobiles and aircraft—made it possible for
people living in this time to visit all sorts of formerly
remote areas of the world, giving rise to tourism as we
know it today. Tourism also involves the desire of tourists
to bring back souvenirs of their travels—mementos of the
places they have visited, the things and people they have
seen. Often, these were exotic goods that recalled
someone’s travels to far-away places such as India, Africa,
the Middle East, and America’s Western frontier. Travelers
often filled their houses with such souvenirs, and might
cover the walls of living rooms and parlors top to bottom
with treasures such as Native American baskets (see
Above: the home of Victorian-era traveler and basket
collector Abby Boutelle, San Diego, 1910.
Baskets were lightweight and easily transported while
traveling by car, boat, or train. As products of Native
American women’s crafts, they were of particular interest
to women who visited Indian lands as tourists and art
collectors. Wealthy women often devoted fortunes to
purchasing Indian baskets and offering patronage to the
skilled Native women who produced the finest works.
Nostalgia for the vanishing frontier, as well as for
traditional crafts and things that were hand-made, which
were rapidly being replaced by the industrial revolution’s
flood of mass-produced, manufactured goods, also fueled
the popular vogue for baskets, as well as other kinds of
crafts. Wider art movements like the Arts and Crafts
Movement (1880-1920), which emphasized traditional
crafts—hand-built furniture, hand-made pottery and glass,
woodworking, hand-woven fabrics, and folk arts such as
Shaker furniture—arose from dissatisfaction with the
Industrial Age and its impersonal, mechanized production
of goods. This movement spread from Great Britain to
Europe, the U. S., and even Japan. The beautiful, skillfully
created, ingeniously designed baskets of California Native
women found an enthusiastic market during the Victorian
era among tourists, anthropologists, and art collectors who
were disenchanted with mass production, and wished to
collect cherished examples of their visits to the West and its
original peoples.
Above: Mono Lake Paiute Women displaying their prizewinning baskets during the “Indian Field Days” celebration
at Yosemite National Park in 1925. These tourist-oriented
events were organized annually to attract visitors to the
National Park throughout the 1920’s. Visitors witnessed
competitions and awards for the finest baskets in various
categories, demonstrations of Indian crafts and techniques
for food preparation, hunting, making bows and arrows,
etc. Other events included tribal rodeos, dances, music,
and beauty pageants (definitely NOT a Native American
tradition!) that spotlighted the area’s Native residents.
Tourism to visit Native American tribes became a valuable
means to promote the success of National Parks such as
Yosemite and the Grande Canyon. Visitors flocked to these
areas and other popular destinations such as Lake Tahoe,
where they often purchased Native American baskets,
beadwork, and other crafts as souvenirs of their travels.
Above: Yokuts basket from the turn of the 20th century that
combines traditional designs and methods with new
elements inspired by the tourist market. Its traditional
elements include the materials and techniques used for its
creation—redbud shoots (reddish brown), black devil’s
claw root, and tan sedge, black quail feathers, and a coiled
method of construction (you can see the rings that make up
the basket’s structure—evidence of coiled production).
New elements are the butterfly designs—figural, pictorial
images used to make the basket more appealing to tourists
and art collectors.
Such pictorial images of animals, human figures,
butterflies, flowers, etc., are not traditional for basketry—
decorative designs were usually confined to geometric
designs like diamonds, zigzags, chevrons, etc. Sources for
these pictorial images may have come from external media
and sources—designs used for needlepoint or silk floss
embroidery, illustrations in magazines and children’s
books, advertisements, printed or woven designs on
commercial fabrics. Indian women on reservations often
had access to such materials at trading posts, reservation
schools, churches, rural stores, or in their friendships with
white neighbors. Magazines intended for women’s
readership, like the Ladies’ Home Journal, often included
needlepoint, embroidery, and lace-making patterns that may
have inspired some of these designs. Indian women had
been taught skills like embroidery and lace-making at
mission and federal Indian schools, or had learned them
from the wives of settlers, federal Indian agents, and
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Pictorial image t geometric
Basket types and uses—burden baskets for harvesting and
transporting wild foods, seed beater baskets for knocking
seeds into the burden basket, winnowing baskets for sifting
wild seeds and separating the seed meat from the chaff,
cooking baskets, baskets for storage, food bowl baskets,
serving tray baskets, and jewel or “gift” baskets made as
gifts given to women and girls throughout their lives.
Basketweaving techniques and materials were also used by
women to make hats and various kinds of garments,
including women’s skirts and aprons, men’s kilts and
cloaks, etc.
–Changes in basket weaving designs in response to
external influences—tourism, beginning with the
establishment of the railroads in the 1880’s, and a new
commercial market composed of tourists, travelers, and art
collectors. Among the changes in basket design that
developed in response to tourism and commercial markets
was the introduction of realistic figural designs, often
representing butterflies, birds, deer, and other animals.
Traditional decorative designs for baskets were geometric
and abstract. Anthropologists and museum curators also
had an impact on the survival and change in basketweaving
as they began to carry out research on native cultures in the
late 19th century and collect the finest examples of
basketweaving for major museum collections (for example,
pioneering woman anthropologist Lila O’Neal, who taught
at UC Berkeley and worked as curator in its anthropology
–Basketweaving survives among California tribal groups
today, although it is difficult for weavers to practice their
traditional art and to market their work for prices that will
justify the amount of effort involved. Their problems
include difficulty accessing traditional plant materials—
some plants are now endangered with the disappearance of


fragile ecosystems, and women often cannot get permission
to gather them on private lands. They may have to gather
plants on such public land areas as highway medians, in
areas often treated with dangerous pesticides—the exposure
to these toxins is a health risk for weavers today.
Pacific Northwest Coast—tribes such as the Salish, Makah,
and Chinook lived along the Oregon and Washington
coasts, in villages of large houses built of cedar planks that
resemble those of other NW Coast tribes in British
Columbia and southern Alaska.
–Clan organization–Societies of the Pacific Northwest
region were organized along the kinship principle of the
clan, an extended family group (which might be quite
large) consisting of people who all regard themselves as
descendants of a common ancestor (who may be a
legendary or mythological figure).
–Social ranking–They are also ranked societies, meaning
that their social order emphasizes differences in social
status among people based on their ancestry, clan
membership, inheritance, and descent. Ranking is
extremely important throughout society—individuals are
ranked with respect to one another, even within a single
clan, and clans are ranked in prestige as well. Such social
ranking is also associated with the larger organization of
society to form chiefdoms.
–Chiefdoms–A chiefdom is a kind of social organization
that emphasizes a hierarchy of communities under the
authority of a chief who inherits his position through his
descent within a top-ranking clan. High-ranking clan
nobles owe their allegiance to a chief who presides over
their entire clan, and perhaps also commands the allegiance
of other, lower-ranking clans as well.
–Economic redistribution–Families governed under the

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leadership of a chief are required to provide him with
tribute payments in the form of labor or goods. The chief
accumulates this tribute wealth, and usually through
elaborate ceremonials that involve feasting, gift giving, and
dramatic ritual performances and display, the chief
redistributes this wealth, giving it back to the community as
each guest at these festivals receives food and gifts
according to their rank or status in the social hierarchy.
–Chiefdom societies–Examples of chiefdoms include the
Northwest Coast tribes, such as the Haida, Kwakiutl, and
Tlingit. Examples from other parts of the world include the
chiefdoms of native Polynesia and Melanesia, such as the
large, complex chiefdom governed by King Kamehameha
in Hawaii, where Captain James Cook was killed in 1779,
and the chiefdoms of Tahiti, Samoa, and the Maori people
of New Zealand that Cook encountered in his previous
–the Potlatch—Northwest Coast societies conducted such
festivals of gift-giving, feasting, and ritual display, known
as potlatching. The potlatch is an elaborate festival that
includes days of feasts and social gatherings, focused on
the dramatic display through dance and masked
performance of legendary histories of the hosting chief and
his clan.
–Inheritance–A potlatch normally marks the inheritance by
the chief or his close relatives of certain new honors,
wealth, or statuses, such as a new noble title, new
hereditary rights or properties, new heirlooms such as
valued masks, blankets, or other items of ceremonial
regalia passed along in ranking families. It may also mark
the initiation of an individual into a prestigious ceremonial
organization, such as the Hamatsa (Cannibal Raven)
society. A potlatch is generally concerned with the
acquisition of a new, higher social status by the host or his

close relatives.
–theatricality and ritual drama–Potlatch dances can be
highly theatrical narrative performances, which tell a story
of how an important ancestor acquired certain spiritual
helpers, rights, statuses, or powers, which are passed down
to the host chief or clan by this ancestor and his/her
descendants. “Special effects” are often arranged for the
performances, with the use of puppets, tunnels and hidden
chambers, magical illusions, and masks with movable parts.
–Potlatch law–The host of a potlatch increases his/her
status by giving wealth away—generosity plays a key part
in elevating the social standing of a potlatch host.
Potlatching was outlawed in Canada in 1884 under the
Indian Act, but continued in secret. The ban was repealed
in 1951. The Potlatch was banned on the grounds that it
was destructive, drunken, and it was opposed by
missionaries and government agencies alike.
Northwest Coast art style—
–Formline—a style of visual design used by Northwest
Coast tribes that emphasizes flat, two-dimensional
decoration and figures outlined in bold, black lines. The
style is very abstract and relies on using “ovoid” shapes to
make up parts of a figure or other design. Spaces are rarely
left blank—openings in the main design may be filled in
with other ovoid shapes that represent small faces, eyes, the
joints of limbs, hands, or paws, etc. These flat, abstract
designs cover both two-dimensional surfaces like blankets,
carved wooden panels, the sides and covers of wooden
chests, etc., but they also wrap around the curved shapes of
totem poles and wooden masks.
–Clan Crest or Totem—most designs of Northwest Coast

art represent clan crests or totems. These usually take the
form of abstract bird, animal, whale, or fish designs that
serve as the heraldic symbols of specific clans (heraldry
refers to a system of conventional designs, colors, and
symbols that serve to identify a person’s family or social
status, like the heraldic coats of arms displayed on the
armor of medieval knights). Clan crests can also represent
supernatural beings—Sun or Moon, the Thunderbird, the
Double-headed Sea Serpent, etc.). The clan crest refers to
the family history that includes certain rights, powers, or
statuses given to the clan members and their chief by the
clan’s spiritual patrons. The clan’s history is composed of
stories about its origins–sometimes the clan’s founding
ancestor appeared in the form of an animal, bird, whale,
etc., before shedding this outer “cloak” and assuming
human form—the clan’s most important crest would
represent this ancestral being.
Totem pole—a memorial (and sometimes funerary) pole
carved by a master wood carver, made to be erected at an
important potlatch by the chief and clan who commissioned
its carving. The totem pole features a series of the family’s
most important clan crests, shown stacked vertically from
bottom to top, as a kind of account of the clan’s legendary
history. Each animal, bird, or anthropomorphic figure on
the pole refers to a story or episode of the clan history,
which would deal with the exploits of an important
ancestor, and the way he/she acquired power and status
through some interaction with a powerful being—Raven,
Killer Whale, Grizzly Bear, etc. The double-headed sea
serpent, for example, gave certain clans great powers to
achieve victory in war. The totem pole, which might also
house the ashes or even the body of a deceased chief, was
thus a visual display of the clan’s pride and heritage.
–Iconography—an icon is a visual symbol that has a


conventional meaning, such as the cross in Christian
iconography as a symbol for the crucifixion of Christ, or
the lily as a symbol of the Virgin Mary. Northwest coast
iconography is complex but quite standardized, with
common symbols used by tribes throughout a large area.
–Artistic specialization—NW Coast art emphasizes the
richness of its materials and the great skill, imagination,
and virtuosity of its artists. The high rank and great wealth
of Northwest Coast clan chiefs enabled them to create such
dramatic, highly visible, sumptuous works of art by paying
top prices to the best artists. With a wealthy chief as a
patron, a totem pole carver, for example, could become a
specialist in his craft, working full-time to perfect his art
because the chief would pay him handsomely for his work,
allowing him freedom from hunting, fishing, and other
activities to support his family. The great artistry of a top
Chilkat blanket weaver, totem pole or mask carver added to
the prestige and status of the chief who commissioned his
or her work.
Transcultural and contemporary NW arts:
Although the impact of Euro-American colonization and
expansion in North American was all too often destructive
for indigenous societies, at times new contacts, influences,
and cross-cultural exchanges presented opportunities for
creativity, invention, and new kinds of identities and
expressive forms. A good example of such changes is the
florescence of beadwork embroidery across the northern
parts of North America, where women in many tribes
invented new artistic designs and techniques using glass
trade beads from Europe.
Northern Athapaskan tribes—inland from the coastal parts

of Alaska and British Columbia inhabited by the Haida,
Tlingit, Tsimshian, and other Northwest Coast chiefdoms
were many tribes who spoke related languages of the
Athapaskan language family. Individual Northern
Athapaskan tribes are known by a variety of names—
Chipewyan, Kaska, Sekani, Tahltan, Beaver, Dogrib, and
more. Since they are closely related, we can discuss them
collectively as the Northern Athapaskans. They inhabit the
cold, remote inland areas of Canada and southern Alaska,
in the subarctic zone of the “midnight sun” where summers
are brief, winters last most of the year, and the land is
characterized by expanses of deep forest, tundra, and
permafrost. Women from these tribes often pass the long
nights of these cold, dark winter months making many
types of items decorated with brilliant, colorful beadwork
embroidery, from mittens and sledbags to warm velvet bags
for carrying babies, to embroidered jackets, women’s
dresses, sled dog blankets, mukluks and tobacco bags.
These items may be made of traditional hide and leather,
from elk, moose, mink, or beaver pelt, or of Western woven
fabrics like wool, velvet, and felt. Usually, materials are
combined in creative ways, to create objects that are hybrid
in the materials from which they are made, and in the
techniques and decorative traditions that inspire the
women’s ideas. Most of the beadwork embroidery takes
the form of elaborate floral designs of vines, leaves,
flowers, and stems, preserving a memory of the beauty of
the region’s short summer, and brightening the long dark
months with little warmth or sun.
Beads made in Czechoslovakia or Venice were traded to
New World groups in North America from the time of the
first English and French explorations and settlements in
Canada and the eastern U.S. Indian women loved the
bright, translucent, colorful glass beads that were more
easily sewn to leather, cloth, or hide than the traditional
dyed and flattened porcupine quills that were used in native
embroidery. The beads presented a universe of new design
possibilities—they came in different sizes and even shapes;
some were transparent, others opaque; some came in
metallic colors, or were faceted to make them glitter. They
came in every color and shade, and beads came readymade, without the long, hard labor of preparing and dying
porcupine quills for embroidery.
Beadwork became immensely popular among the Indians
of the eastern U.S. and across Canada, were the fur trade
provided a steady and abundant trade in colorful beads
exchanged with Indian trappers for the pelts of beaver,
mink, ermine, and other fur-bearing mammals. The fur
companies encouraged this trade in beads, as well as the
intermarriage of their traders with women in the tribes
where they did business. Thus, many women from
Northern Athapaskan and other tribes from the East Coast
to British Columbia married men of English, French,
Scottish, Irish, Swedish, Czech, Russian, German, and
other European descent, who were employed to work for
fur companies based in England, France, Russia, and the
U.S. Many women also converted to Christianity for their
husbands, becoming Catholic or joining a Protestant
church, where they might be employed making beautiful
beaded and silk-floss embroidered vestments for the priests
and pastors and altar cloths for the chapel. Their designs
began to reflect combinations of indigenous embroidery
colors, styles, and designs with sources from Victorian
women’s textile arts, such as embroidering samplers with
colored silk floss, needlepoint, and crochet, as well as
designs from traditional European folk arts found in
England, Scotland, Ireland, Germany, Russia, Scandinavia,
Czechoslovakia, and other parts of Europe.
These hybrid designs gained in originality and popularity as
these mixed native-European families produced new
generations of children and grandchildren, many of whom
were sent to Europe to be educated (fur traders made a
good living), and learned even more about European folk
arts and Victorian ladies’ textile arts while abroad. These
mixed-blood families, collectively called the Canadian
Metís (metis means “mixed” in French), became a distinct
cultural and even political group in Canada, differing in
heritage and social position from both the full-blood Indian
tribes and Canadians of pure European descent. They often
served as agents of cultural exchange and interactions
between these two sectors of Canadian society, and as a
great force for creativity and change through the
intermixing of their heritage, perspectives, and position
inbetween native and Euro-Canadian people.
Their beadwork embroidery is one of the great hallmarks of
their unique cultural identities, bringing together the native
and the European, but creating a new expressive form
different from both that reflects their new, separate identity.
Another example of innovation in an art form impacted by
cultural contact and exchange is the beautiful carving of a
black carbonaceous stone called argillite, a material first
used on the NW Coast by Haida carver Charles Edenshaw.
Agillite is only found on the Queen Charlotte Islands off
the coast of British Columbia, homeland of the Haida
people. Edenshaw, who became a Haida chief and master
carver, developed the practice of carving miniature versions
of totem poles, carved and painted storage chests, and other
Haida wood carvings in polished argillite for a flourishing
maritime trade. Edenshaw created these works to provide
for a new market of sailors, tourists, merchants, and other
visitors who came to the NW Coast on whaling, fishing,
and commercial sailing vessels from the U.S., England,
Russia, and other nations. The agillite miniatures were
popular souvenirs for these visitors, and they were objects
of great elegance and beauty. Edenshaw, who also worked
closely with anthropologists who visited to carry out
studies of Haida culture, was also commissioned to create
many full-sized wood carvings for the collections of
leading museums like the Smithsonian and the American
Museum of Natural History. Edenshaw, who died in 1920,
also pioneered silver and goldsmithing among the NW
Coast tribes, creating and teaching others to create fine
etched formline designs of traditional crest animals on
bracelets and other items of gold and silver jewelry. NW
Coast artists still produce argillite carvings and formline
jewelry in silver and gold, following Edenshaw’s inventive
Today, many artists in all native tribes produce works in
traditional media and styles—totem poles, masks, and
carved wooden chests are still made by artists from the NW
Coast tribes, both for their own use, and for an enthusiastic
market of art collectors, museums, and galleries. Many
artists who create wood carvings, baskets, Chilkat blankets,
and other fine works cross the boundaries between
traditional native art materials, styles, and uses, and the
world of contemporary commercial art practice. Salish
artist Susan Point is one example, since her wood carvings
and blanket designs have been displayed in commercial art
galleries, featured in leading art magazines, and
commissioned for such public areas as Stanley Park in
Vancouver, British Columbia. Haida contemporary artist
Preston Singletary studied with Seattle glass-sculptor Dale
Chihuley, learning techniques for making large scale
sculptures in glass that he combines with Northwest Coast
art shapes, designs, and aesthetics.
Other artists who work in the commercial and critical world
of contemporary art include California native artists Harry
Fonseca (Maidu and Wintu) and Frank LaPeña (Wintu).
Fonseca is widely known for his humorous series of
“coyote” paintings that use the trickster figure of traditional
Native American storytelling, Coyote, to poke fun at such
contemporary predicaments of Native American life as
dealing with tourism to Indian communities. La Peña’s
paintings are known for their meditative qualities and their
focus on the quiet mysticism of Native American
ceremonials and religious beliefs. Both these artists work
in the medium of easel painting, using oil or acrylic paint
on canvas, an art medium with European origins, and in
realistic, representational styles that are also belong to the
traditions of European, rather than Native American arts.
Both are highly successful artists whose works have been
exhibited in many acclaimed museums and galleries. Both
have a following of art collectors and critics, and their
works have been featured in many leading books and
publications. Although they work in the world of
contemporary art, using materials and art styles with
origins in European art history, they and other
contemporary Native American artists use them to explore
aspects of their indigenous histories, culture, belief, and
Rock Art Terminology—rock art types, materials, methods:
Cupule/pit and groove
pigment (red ocher, hematite, other iron oxides; charcoal or
manganese; limonite, copper, serpentine, gypsum, etc).
rock varnish or desert varnish
What are the differences between different kinds of rock art
found in California? How were these kinds of rock art
made? How would paint have been made? What would
have been necessary for making petroglyphs? What are
some ways to determine the approximate ages of rock art of
different types?
Rock art locations and uses–
Caves, cliffs, canyons, outcrops, springs, boulders, rock
overhangs, etc.
Why are rock art designs found in these specific kinds of
locations? What kinds of concepts did California native
people associate with caves, springs, ponds, prominent rock
outcrops, boulders, and openings into the earth? What
kinds of physical or spiritual qualities did they associate
with these kinds of places? (specific kinds of views, shapes
of stones, relationships with the horizon, light and shadow
effects, legends about supernatural beings, visual
phenomena such as sparks, mysterious lights, ghosts, etc.,
auditory qualities, supernatural guardian spirits, spirit
helpers, entries into the underworld, healing powers,
earthly fertility, gender, etc).
What does the term shaman mean, and what is its origin?
What are some important theoretical questions about its
appropriateness and use?
What kinds of concepts and practices does shamanism
involve? (spiriitual flight, going underwater, symbolic
death and rebirth, sexual intercourse, out of body trance,
transformation into spirit helper, etc)
What were some specific concepts, practices, and symbols
associated with California native shamans? (rain doctors,
rattlesnake doctors, “sucking” doctors, bear doctors—
concepts such as spiritual flight, communication with the
spirit world or ghosts of the dead, association with spirit
helpers, trance and altered states of consciousness, spiritual
journey to the otherworld, management of natural
resources, astronomical knowledge, creation of rock art)
What are meant by such terms as “shaman’s lair,” or
“shaman’s cache?” What images have you studied that are
examples of these kinds of locations? (For example, San
Andreas Canyon near Palm Springs, lair of a famous
shaman; ) Was shamanism practiced the same way in all
areas of California?
What kinds of imagery have you studied in rock art that
seems closely related to shamanistic themes? What kinds
of images may suggest states of trance, altered states of
consciousness, otherworldly encounters or journeys,
transformation or portals to other realms, spirit helpers or
Toloache Complex—
Datura (specific species—inoxia, metalloids, etc), also
known as toloache or jimson weed
Momoy—Chumash term for Datura, also referred to as
“Grandmother Momoy”
What are the traits of this religious complex? How was
toloache made? How was it used? By whom, and in what
circumstances? What kinds of experiences did toloache
help to induce? What would one experience under its
Phosphenes or entoptics—what do these terms refer to?
How would they be experienced by someone under the
influence of Datura? Why do some researchers believe
they have a relationship to rock art? What kinds of
symbols may relate to phosphenes in rock art designs?
California Native Tribes and Language Groups:
Southern California—
Uto-Aztecan and Takic Language families–
“Mission” Indians–
Chumash (from Malibu north to San Luis Obispo,
including Los Angeles, Santa Barbara, Bakersfield and San
Luis Obispo areas)
Yokuts (areas northeast of Chumash country, San Fernando
Gabrielino or Tongva (Los Angeles area, near San Gabriel
Luiseño—Oceanside area east to Anza Borrego Desert, San
Luis Rey Mission area
Diegueño—northern San Diego County from coast to Anza
Borrego Desert, Mission San Diego Alcala
Kumeyaay—related to Diegueno, most of San Diego
County, from coast to Anza Borrego Desert, northern Baja
Cahuilla—desert and mountain areas of Riverside, San
Bernadino Counties
Cupeño—Riverside and San Bernadino Counties
Serrano—San Bernadino Mountains
Eastern California—
Numic language family, Great Basin region
Owens Valley Pauite (Death Valley, Bishop areas)
Panamint Shoshone (Death Valley, Mojave Desert)
Kawaiisu (Mojave Desert)
Chemeheuvi (Mohave Desert)
Central/Northern California—
Pomo (for example, “Baby Rocks”)
Miwok (Chaw’se Grinding Rocks State Park)
Cosmology—concepts of world order, space, and time
What does the term “cosmos” mean? What are some
elements of cosmology that you have studied in learning
about rock art? What concepts and symbols were
associated with the four world directions in art of the
Chumash or other native groups? (colors, sacred
mountains or islands, times of day, seasons of the year,
specific animals, spirits or otherworldly locations). What
concepts relate to duality? What kinds of symbols in rock
art or sandpainting may relate to cosmological order or
How was the calendar organized for the Chumash and their
neighbors? How did they observe the seasons or passage of
periods of time? What kinds of astronomical knowledge
did they possess, and how did they express this knowledge
in rock art symbols or in their ceremonial life? What did
they believe about the rainbow, the stars, constellations, the
sun, moon, or seasons? How did they make observations of
such events as the summer and winter solstices at rock art
When does the summer solstice occur? Why was it
important in timekeeping and in ceremonial life?
When does the winter solstice occur? Why did it matter,
and how did the Chumash or other native groups observe
it? (calling down the sun, reversing the sun’s movement
through ceremonial activity)
Astronomical knowledge and practices—Chumash
sunstick, horizon astronomical observations, light and
shadow effects at rock art sites involving petroglyphs,
mortar stones, and pictograph designs
Examples—Burro Flat Chumash winter and summer
solstice rock art sites, Kumeyaay Summer Solstice Cave in
the Fishcreek Mountains, San Diego
Chumash rock art sites:
Painted Cave, San Marcos Pass, Santa Barbara area
(Canalino, SB-21)
Pleito Cave, Emigdiano Mountains area, Kern County
(Emigdiano K-2)
Carrizo Painted Rock, Carrizo Plains National Monument
(Cuyama SL-1A)
Burro Flat, Ventura County, Simi Hills near Chatsworth
(Ventureno V-4)
Fertility/Gender/Puberty Initiations—
Yonic petroglyphs—what does the term yoni mean? How
would you describe a yonic petroglyph? How were they
made, and in most likelihood, by whom? How might they
have been used? What are examples you have studied on
Artstor? (the Yoni petroglyph at Piedras Grandes in the
Anza Borrego Desert, yonis that appear together with
cupules and bedrock mortars at puberty initiation sites in
the Anza Borrego Desert State Park)
Cupules—what are cupules, and how were they made?
Who made and used them? In what ways? How do they
relate to feminine gender? Why do northern California
groups such as the Pomo call they “baby rocks?” Were
they also related to rain and weather control?
Bedrock mortars—what were these features of rock art
sites? Who made and used them? For what purposes?
How do these relate to gender, gendered locations and
activities, or to concepts relating to food and mother earth?
How is male gender related to rock art sites? Were
shamans men or women, or sometimes both? What kinds
of locations or rock art seem to involve masculine gender
and concepts? (“Takwish’s Genitals, “ Riverside County,
male symbolism associated with mountaintops, peaks, high
Girls’ and boys’ initiations—
How were boys and girls initiated into adult status in
southern California Indian societies? How were tobacco
and toloache used? What kinds of ordeals or trials did boys
and girls have to undergo? (“roasting” in the pit, ordeals
with stinging ants, whipping with stinging nettles, fasting,
footraces, etc). How were they instructed in sacred lore
and appropriate behavior? What is a sandpainting, and how
was it made? What did sandpaintings look like, and what
kinds of symbols did they include? What was their
symbolic meaning? What images in sandpaintings and
puberty initiation rock art might relate to the avenging
animals of the god Chinichingish (“Cheng-ee-ching-itch”),
a god who died and was reborn in the stars, who was a kind
of “Christ for the Indians”?
At what point in the initiation ceremonies did the boys and
girls paint on rocks? What other elements might be
included in the ceremony? (ringing rocks, singing and
dancing, old men and women singing songs taught by the
moon about women’s fertility, making cupules, seeing
“fertility stones,” etc.) What kinds of designs did the boys
and girls paint? How did they differ? What is the symbolic
meaning of such designs as diamond chains, zig zags and
wavy lines, cross-hatched patterns? How do they relate to
the theme of women’s fertility? How did the ceremonial
colors red and black relate to designs in face and body
painting, rock art, and sandpainting? What significance
seems to have been associated with red and black?
What are some examples of girls’ and boys’ paintings you
have studied in class and on Artstor—for instance,
pictographs at Puberty Rock in Riverside County,
Exwanyawish near Pauma in San Diego, and pictographs in
the Blair Valley and the Morteros Village site, as well as
elsewhere in the Anza-Borrego State Park.
Southern California Rock Art Styles:
San Luis Rey—red and black, many puberty and
shamanistic paintings—used by the Luiseño and some
Cahuilla, Cupeno, and Kumeyaay groups.
La Rumorosa—polychromatic, red, black, white, yellow,
brown, grey, blue, green—
Example—Indian Hill pictographs at Blue Sun Cave, Anza
Borrego Desert
Solstice Cave, Fishcreek Mountains, San Diego County
Rancho Bernardo Maze style—intricate geometric designs,
mostly pictographs, some petroglyphs, painted or carved on
open boulders, cliffs, or sheer rock faces, in highly public,
visible location—older than other rock art styles, maybe up
to 4,000 years old. Most are red-painted, and have
complex interlocking rectangular design elements—
example—Hemet Maze Stone, petroglyph carving with a
four-part design suggesting four directions and other
cosmic symbolism
Coso Range Rock Art, Eastern Califoria—
Mojave Desert, Death Valley, Coso Mountain Ranges, from
about Barstow to Bishop—
Home to the Panamint Shoshone, Owens Valley Paiute,
Chemehuevi, and other Numic-speaking Great Basin native
In what ways do rock art locations in this area differ from
those of the Chumash, Kumeyaay, and other coastal
groups? Which is dominant in this region—pictographs, or
petroglyphs? How ancient are the petroglyphs here? Were
they made in puberty rituals, or by shamans?
What was the main emphasis of shamanism in this part of
Caifornia? What are the characteristic kinds of rock art
designs associated with the Coso Range and its rock art
style? For what reason do human figures and bighorn
sheep predominate as main designs? How do the human
figures appear, and what are their characteristic design
elements? What may aspects of these designs, such as
feather headdresses, medicine bags, bows and arrows, etc.,
signify about the practices of these shamans? What theme
was associated with “shooting bighorn sheep” in this
region? What significance lies in tracks and footprints that
appear as petroglyphs at these locations? What kinds of
spirit helpers may have been associated with shamanism in
this area?
What are examples of Coso Range rock art you have
studied in class? (Little Petroglyph Canyon, for example,
Big Petroglyph Canyon, Sheep Canyon, Red Canyon near
Bishop, etc).

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