Arts & Crafts

Native American arts thrived in the tourist industry of the American Southwest. Tourists bought items such as basketry, pottery, jewelry, Hopi katsinas, and Navajo blankets. With the rise of tourism, material culture also changed in response to tourist desires. Objects became miniaturized for easier transportation by train and new forms appeared with European influences. These trends continue in the present-day tourist market.

Searching for Authenticity

In the past, the search for “authentic” Native American goods often became linked with the idea of “primitivism.” Despite the intricate artwork found on Southwest pottery, tourists would often purchase less skillfully crafted items. One of the tourist pieces to arise during this era is the Tesuque rain gods. The rain gods are fashioned with this “primitive” idea in mind and are crudely shaped and decorated. Tesuque Pueblo does not have rain gods which makes these pieces even more ironic. Thousands were produced and sold between 1885 and 1925 for as little as $0.25. One can still find rain gods at antique stores and in museums. Modern-day prices for these ceramic figures can reach over one hundred dollars.

Tourists weren’t the only ones searching for authentic Native American goods. Museums were also in the market of collecting old ceremonial pieces. During the quest for ceremonial pottery at Zuni Pueblo, a number of “pseudo-ceremonial” pots were distributed and sold to museums in order to protect the real ceremonial pottery. Pseudo-ceremonial pottery played off other ideas of primitivism by being extremely fanciful and sometimes bizarre in appearance. Pseudo-ceremonial pottery had unpractical forms and random attachments or holes in the vessels. Strange figures often appeared on pseudo-ceremonial pottery that was atypical of traditional Zuni forms. There is still ongoing debate as to how much these forms were commissioned by white traders for sale to museums.

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