Arts of the Amazon from the Museum of the Red River

February 06 2009 - February 28 2009

Featured Amazonian Art:

Feather Art

Indians of the Amazon are recognized as being among the few great artisans of feather ornaments in the world. Only tribes in New Guinea rival those in Amazonia in the use of feathers as adornment.

In the past, feather creations did not coincide with Western ideas of what constituted art. The work is made of natural materials, ephemeral, meant to be discarded, yet feather art conveys an overwhelming impression of vitality and creativity. It is only recently that the impressive art of Amazonian Indians has become known and appreciated.

Ceramic Technology

The ceramic vessels found within this exhibit are almost exclusively made through a technique known as coiling. Coiling is a process where wet clay is hand shaped into rope-like segments that form the walls of a pot by continuously stacking or wrapping coils upon previous layers. The wet coiled walls are then smoothed to form a flat surface.

The Indians of the Amazon added a unique temper to their clay that allowed them to build thin walls and extraordinary shapes. They collected fresh water sponges, burnt them, and sifted the ash into their clay or gathered bark from a deciduous tree, burnt it and added that ash to the clay. This temper contains organic silica, whose long fibers act as reinforcements within the clay, binding it together.

Once the clay is sun dry, polychrome slips are often added. These colored "paints" are derived from different ochres, ores, and clays and are used to produce elaborate designs on vessels. Open fire kilns fire the clay and a tree resin is sometimes added after the firing, producing a glaze-like finish.

Amazonian Baskets

Lightweight and flexible, baskets made of rainforest llianas and fronds are the carrying and storage device of choice for many Indians of the Amazon basin. Baskets, basketry items, and objects adorned with woven segments occupy a special realm among Amazonian Indian groups. Their construction, design, and personality mimic the natural world that surrounds these people and occupy their thoughts.

Twill-weave baskets are as numerous in the basin as are the animals they represent. Reptiles are depicted on a multitude of levels. The twill-woven construction of the baskets mimics the textured skin of reptiles while the diagonal-crossing splints are often manipulated into snake-like designs such as the diamonds on the mighty anaconda.

Baskets were traditionally utilitarian objects used in everyday activities such as gathering firewood, cooking, eating, and storing things like flour and feathers. Foot Indians particularly enjoyed the flexibility and lightweight nature of baskets that easily accompanied their semi-nomadic lifestyle.

Many Amazonian tribes make baskets today for sale on the ethnic arts market. While some basket makers have retained traditional shapes, designs, and materials, others are now making baskets much fancier to attract the eye of a passing tourist.

Community Art Day
Pictures of the Arts of the Amazon Community Art Day: Mask Making with Patrick Riley.

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