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  • Notes From The Frontier

Ancient Nez Perce Art Still Flourishes

Beadwork and horse regalia are glorious art forms for the Nimigpuu

The Nez Perce tribe of Oregon, Washington and Idaho is known for their illustrious leader, Chief Joseph (his Nez Perce name, Hinmatóowyalahtq̓it meant “Thunder Rolling Down the Mountain”), and their amazing spotted horses, Appaloosas. But they are also a complicated and industrious tribe known for their inventiveness and magnificent beaded artwork. That artwork manifested itself not only in their clothing, moccasins, tipis, blankets, and household gear, but also especially in the decoration of their prized horses.

The gear they created for their horses included bridles, rein decorations, native saddles, saddles ornaments, banners and blankets, martingales (chest straps), head gear and head bonnets, stirrup covers, and saddle bags. The Nez Perce created most of these pieces from cured hides, that were then dyed, embroidered, decorated with drawings, or decorated with beads made from a wide variety of materials, natural and also traded beads. Natural materials included shells, bones, pebbles, claws, nuts, seeds, porcupine quills, horns, pieces of metal, bird talons, sometimes even animals heads or animal fetuses (these especially for bags called parfleches). The Nez Perce were also known for their fine basket weaving from grasses and organic materials and sometimes incorporated this artform in their horse regalia as well.

The Nez Perce were especially renowned for their beautiful and extremely colorful designs, that could be geometric, floral, or narrative images, usually of animals, hunting or war exploits.

The artform still flourishes today among the Nez Perce and are worn as magnificent regalia at powwows, weddings, parades, reenactment events, for movie scenes, and for other special occasions. Many antique and contemporary examples of Nez Perce work are also exhibited at art galleries, fine arts museums, the Smithsonian, and numerous Native American museums.

You may find this related post interesting:

-Amazing Native Bead Artist, Angela Swedburg

"Ancient Nez Perce Art Still Flourishes" was first published on Facebook and on April 9, 2020

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