What Colors Meant to the Native Americans?

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Native American paintings reveal so much about the culture and life of our ancestors. Like any other art forms, Native American paintings are replete with both physical and spiritual representations. Indians traditionally painted everyday items such as clothing, pottery, woodcrafts, and even cave walls and tipi covers. The most notable of all woodcrafts are the Totem Poles. But unlike today where we have power tools, such as air compressors with adjustable nozzle (visit this site for more details), that make painting much easier, ancient Indian tribes manually painted their pieces using rudimentary tools.

color-wheelWhile a great chunk of Native Indian art has not survived time, many ancient symbols are still used today as tattoo designs. They are also depicted on numerous objects such as clothes, tepees, and custom art. A lot of us appreciate this ancient art symbols, particularly Totem Poles, but do we really know their meaning, much less the significance of the colors they used?

Native American Indians used colors to show the meanings in their Totem Poles. There are many different tribes and each associate unique meaning to colors. Red color symbolizes life, power, blood, war, strength, energy, and success in war. It may also represent beauty and happiness. In totem poles, red is frequently seen as the scarlet tanager, the crest of a red-headed woodpecker, or the tongue of an animal.

White and other light colors are used as background. They represent the spacious heavens and the skies. It also means peace, purity and death.

In Native Indian art, black is a “living” color and usually used as face paint for war. It is very aggressive and stood for power and strength. They are often used to define lines in Totem Poles. They used mud from sulphur springs and other earth deposits for color black.

Blue symbolizes the skies as well as the waters, lakes and rivers. Some tribes use dark blue to signify mountains as seen from a distance. The color represents happiness and sincerity. Native Indians derived the color from berries. Sometimes they used western pigments and clay that lent different hues of blue.

Predominant in their surroundings, yellow is a perennial color in Totem Poles and represents happiness, sun and light. Native Indians source yellow dye from tree moss, clays, tannic barks, and roots.

The trees, the hills, the earth, and the mountains are represented by the color green. These natural features are predominant in Indian legends and are thus frequently depicted in Totem Poles. The color green is usually produced by mixing blue and yellow, but can also be derived from simple acid action on copper. The extracts from grass likewise produce green dye.

Purple coming from huckleberries is commonly used by Indians to symbolize reverent nature. It may also represent mountains in the distance.

Native Indian art has provided an effective way of enriching and passing their culture. Today, many Native American Indian artists continue the traditional art, blending ancient art with mainstream art. Colors are effectively used to convey the artist’s ideas.


America Before Europeans