The Great Sioux Nation is divided into three groups: the Teton, or Lakota, the Santee and the Yankton. The Sioux are not a singular tribe, but rather maintain separate tribal governments throughout the Western United States and Canada. As a result, art produced from the Sioux tribes is diverse and varies in design between groups. The Sioux tribes are renowned for their art, especially beaded crafts and clothing.
The Sioux decorate clothing and blankets with colorful beads in a lazy stitch style, which means the beads are sewn directly onto the items. Glass beads were introduced to the tribes by traders in the 19th century. Prior to the introduction of glass beads, the Sioux used dyed porcupine quills to decorate their clothing. The designs are geometric and usually symmetrical. Designs are usually beaded on a white background with a dark accent color to contrast. The most common colors used are blue, yellow, red and green.
The forerunner to Sioux beadwork, tribes traditionally decorated clothing with porcupine quills. The porcupine quills were flattened and colored with vegetable dyes. Aniline dyes were used after their introduction by Plains traders. Quills were woven together to form decorative pieces. Today, beadwork has largely replaced quillwork and only a handful of Sioux artists decorate with porcupine quills in the traditional way.
Buffalo Hide Painting
The Sioux tribes wore buffalo hides as protection from the cold winters and as an integral part of ceremonies. Women wore hides decorated with bright, geometric designs. Men wore hides decorated with pictures depicting a story, like a successful battle or raid. Some hides were decorated to represent the visual history of the tribe. Buffalo hides were also decorated with special symbols to assist childbirth and heal illnesses.
Sioux pottery was traditionally made from the red clay of the Black Hills in North and South Dakota. Like most Native American tribes, pottery was used primarily as storage for food. The vases were painted with symbols to represent stories and locations. Sioux pottery is unique because the backgrounds are painted in color gradients. Like beadwork, Sioux pottery is decorated using geometric symbols.
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