Introduction main content.

Introduction

Part of the Totems to Turquoise exhibition.

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For thousands of years, the Native peoples of North America have made extraordinary jewelry and other adornments. Today throughout the continent that tradition is still alive—and vibrant.

Some of the most spectacular jewelry then and now has been created by the peoples of two very different geographic regions, the American Southwest and the Northwest Coast. Native artists from the Southwest often embrace strong colors and angular geometry, while those from the Northwest typically create more fluid, sculptural forms. Yet beneath these differences, the jewelry has much in common.

Native jewelry employs a visual language that communicates on many levels. Bracelets, belts, and rings embody complex cultural beliefs and symbols, but in miniature. Like other Native arts, jewelry provides evidence of a rich, living tradition, passed down from elders and mentors to the next generation. Today's talented artists respect age-old traditions—and yet reinvent them in exciting and sometimes surprising new ways.