American Indian Art

Shield, about 1870

No Two Horns, Lakota Sioux

painted leather, 17.75 inches in diameter


Plains & Plateau

Shirt, about 1885

Unknown Crow Artist

leather, ermine, bead, and paint, 38 inches high by 58 inches wide


Plains & Plateau

Across time and cultures, clothing provides warmth, adornment, and modesty and signals personal status. Plains Indian shirts such as this often convey information about identity, prayer, community status, bravery in battle, or self-expression. Each artist uniquely combined materials, shapes, and construction techniques with personal vision and community memory to create beautiful artworks with powerful messages.

Cradle, 1897-98

Tsomah (Mrs. George Poolaw), Kiowa

wood, leather, beadwork, and white metal, 45 inches high by 13 inches wide


Plains & Plateau

Robe, about 1870

Unknown Brule Band Sioux Artist

bison hide with beadwork, 94.5 inches high by 72 inches wide


Plains & Plateau

Pipe Bag, about 1885

Unknown Lakota Sioux Artist

hide with beadwork and quillwork, 32.25 inches high by 7 inches wide


Plains & Plateau

Wheel, 1997-2005

HOCK E AYE VI Edgar Heap of Birds, Cheyenne / Arapaho

steel, porcelain, and stone, 12 feet tall by approximately 50 feet in diameter.


Plains & Plateau

Inspired by Native American architectural forms and the Big Horn medicine wheel in Wyoming, Wheel is composed of ten tree forms arranged in a circular shape that is fifty feet in diameter. The trees are aligned to the summer solstice—on June 21, the sun rises in an opening to the east between the first and last trees.

Artist HOCK E AYE VI Edgar Heap of Birds covered the forked red tree forms with text and imagery related to the history of Indian people in the United States and indigenous peoples elsewhere. Each tree addresses a specific theme, from conflict over resources to global cooperation among indigenous peoples.

In addition to the tree forms, the sculpture incorporates a curved exterior wall of the museum, where the Cheyenne words nah-kev-ho-eyea-zim appear in raised letters. The phrase means “We are always returning back home again.”

Sioux Eagle Dancer, 1954

Oscar Howe, Yanktonia Sioux

Casein and damar painting on paper, 20 inches high by 22.5 inches wide


Plains & Plateau

Oscar Howe challenged the definitions of Indian art with his unique and innovative style of creating figures in motion. By using lines and planes to emphasize movement, Howe both shocked and excited the Indian art world in the 1950s. Although some critics dismissed his work as derivative of European cubism, Howe maintained that his inspiration was firmly rooted in historic Sioux abstractions— such as those found in beadwork—as well as his own artistic creativity.

Tipi, about 1880

Attributed to Standing Bear, Brule Band Sioux

Painted canvas on wood frame, 144 inches high by 144 inches in diameter


Plains & Plateau

Tipis were originally made of buffalo hides, but by 1875, with the decline of buffalo herds and the introduction of canvas, tipi makers shifted to using this lighter weight material.

The drawings on the tipi show the artist’s personal experiences of intertribal battles between the Sioux and their Crow and Pawnee enemies. The warriors are rendered in scrupulously accurate detail that makes it possible to recognize different tribes by their distinctive hairstyles and clothing.

Jar, early 1900s

Attributed to Nampeyo, Hopi




The ancestors of the modern Hopi left evidence of rich pottery traditions. Villages such as Sikyatki, Awatovi, and Kawaikuh, inhabited from roughly 1400–1625, were close to Nampeyo’s home village of Hano and were actively being excavated at the end of the 1800s. Anthropologists and traders provided Nampeyo with firsthand opportunities to study the prehistoric ware found at these digs.

Nampeyo revived not only prehistoric patterns and forms in her work but also the traditional Hopi pottery-making process. By 1900, the artist had rediscovered Sikyatki clay sources. Rather than coating her pots with a colored slip, the artist painted her designs directly on the polished clay surface.

With her reputation established, Nampeyo soon began producing large, exceptionally painted pottery for a market of collectors. Though built upon prehistoric designs, vessels such as this represent a creative leap. The artist was no longer fashioning replicas but rather experimented with new designs as she fused elements of prehistoric patterns into innovative new compositions.

Mud Woman Rolls On, 2011

Roxanne Swentzell, Santa Clara

Unfired clay and plant fiber, 10 feet tall by 6.75 feet wide by 11 feet long



See a time-lapse video of the project in the gallery or on the DAM's YouTube channel.

Bird and Cornstalk Rug, 1983

Ason Yellowhair, Navajo

Dyed wool, 94 inches high by 131 inches wide



Ason Yellowhair’s unique style is characterized by a large horizontal format, simple borders, and several rows of plants and birds running perpendicular to the weaving direction. She has shared her skill with her family, continuing a tradition that's been passed down from one generation to the next. This type of Navajo weaving is referred to as a pictorial rug. Although these rugs became common in the late 1800s, they were not sold as “art” until the 1900s.

According to her daughter, Yellowhair based the stylized plants on Wrigley’s Spearmint Chewing Gum wrappers. The border is made up of a geometric pattern that is repeated all the way around the edge of the rug, framing the picture in the center.

Bowl, about 1921

Maria and Julian Martinez, San Ildefonso

Clay, 8.75 inches high by 14 inches in diameter



Maria Martinez is probably the most famous American Indian potter of the twentieth century. She worked closely with her husband, Julian Martinez, who sometimes painted designs on the pottery she sculpted.

This pot is one of the first they created using the matte black on polished black technique—a technique that became their signature. Their innovation shaped a new tradition for San Ildefonso pottery and influenced many artists both within and outside the Indian community.

Polacca #6, 2001

Dan Namingha, Hopi

Acrylic on canvas, 60 inches high by 48 inches wide



Dan Namingha comes from a family of distinguished artists. His great-great-grandmother was the famous potter Nampeyo, and many of his relatives are accomplished potters and carvers.

As an abstract painter, Namingha seeks to transform images from his native experience into abstract, almost minimal forms. In Polacca #6, he incorporates the distinct silhouette of First Mesa, near Polacca on the Hopi reservation in Arizona, into a vivid abstraction of land and sky.

Rug, 1947-48

Daisy Taugelchee, Navajo

Wool, 69.5 inches tall by 49.5 inches wide



Daisy Taugelchee is widely considered the most talented Navajo weaver and spinner who ever lived. This tapestry, in the Two Grey Hills style, is exceptionally fine—the weaving has more than ninety wefts and twenty warps per inch and took six miles of yarn to make. When the artist finished this rug in the late 1940s, she said she’d never again attempt anything so difficult.

Mask, 1900

Unknown Yupik Artist

wood, grass, feathers, paint, shell, and fish, 23.625 inches high by 7 inches wide



Four-faced Hamat’sa Mask, about 1938

George Walkus, Kwakwa̱ka̱'wakw

wood, paint, cedar bark, and string, 17 inches high by 7.75 inches wide by 8.75 deep


Northwest Coast

Wood carving is a highly developed art among Northwest Coast tribes, including the Kwakiutl, whose name for themselves is Kwakwa̱ka̱’wakw.

This mask represents a bird-monster called Galokwudzuwis, or “Crooked Beak,” and is worn by a member of the Hamat’sa Society. Above the “crooked beak” is the head of a crane, while two raven heads project from the back of the mask.

Although the photograph shows the mask’s graceful lines and bold, traditional colors of red, white, and black, it doesn’t show the complex moving parts that are worked by pulling a series of strings to create sound and movement during the dance.

Hat, 1794

Unknown Nuu-chah-nulth Artist

basketry, spruce root, and bear grass, 9 inches high by 10.5 inches in diameter


Northwest Coast

Whale hunting was a very important activity among the Nuu-chah-nulth peoples of Vancouver Island. A highly accomplished basketry artist intertwined strands of plant fiber to portray the pictorial hunting scenes on the sloping sides of this hat. Look closely to see how she created whales being chased by men in large canoes throwing their harpoons.

Cape, late 1800s

Unknown Wailaki Artist

feather and cord, 36 inches tall by 27 inches wide


Great Basin & California

Artists in native California were masters at using the feathers of birds large and small. Here, the feathers of gigantic condors are accented with a few flicker feathers to make a resplendent cape. Imagine a dancer wrapped in these large wing feathers as they floated gracefully across his shoulders and back, accentuating his movements. Only a handful of these rare capes still exist today.

Basket, about 1914

Elizabeth Hickox, Karuk



Great Basin & California

Karuk artists of the 1800s wove exceptional baskets for home use as well as for ceremonial purposes. By the twentieth century, community needs diminished as hand woven baskets were replaced by commercial goods. The talented mother-daughter team of Elizabeth and Louise Hickox earned widespread recognition for the baskets they created for a new market of Anglo collectors. Drawing upon their formidable skills as weavers combined with their artistic vision, they created an entirely new basket form with graceful, incurving sides topped off with dramatic elongated knobs.

Shuffle Off to Buffalo #V, 1983

Harry Fonseca, Maidu

Acrylic and mixed media on canvas, 60inches tall by 48 inches wide


Great Basin & California

In his art, Harry Fonseca transforms Coyote, the trickster character in California Indian stories, into a contemporary Native American figure.

Fonseca often sets Coyote in an urban setting, dressed in a leather jacket and high-tops. He has become as much an assertive character as a humorous one.

In this painting, Coyote takes the stage as Uncle Sam. Fonseca presents him as a stage actor and as an emblematic government figure. The glittering gold frame resembles frames used on Renaissance and baroque paintings—a reference to art history.

Bandolier Bag, about 1840

Unknown Creek Artist

cloth with beadwork, 31.5 inches high by 9.25 inches wide



Elaborately beaded bags created by Cherokee, Creek, and Seminole artists reflect the high point of the beadworkers’ art. While the shape of these men’s shoulder bags was most likely inspired by those worn by British soldiers in the 1700s, their designs were strictly native. Complex floral and geometric motifs intertwine from the point of the flap to the curve of the neck strap. Less commonly, humans and animals were depicted. The meanings of these patterns are largely lost, but they surely conveyed important personal and cultural information for both the weaver and the observer.

American Indian Galleries, Levels 2 & 3, North Building

The American Indian collection represents the artistic works of nearly every tribe across the United States and Canada and all artistic traditions created within these cultures from prehistoric times to the present. It offers visitors the opportunity to experience the artistic vision of generations of American Indian artists from across North America.

From ancient puebloan ceramics, to nineteenth-century Arapaho beaded garments, to contemporary glasswork, the museum offers a look at the rich diversity of art forms, histories, and artistic styles coming from American Indian artists and communities. True to the organizing theme of the galleries, Artist’s Eye, Artist’s Hand, visitors are reminded that American Indian art is a vibrant and continuing tradition advanced by individual artists and craftspersons.

Beginning in the 1920s, the Denver Art Museum was one of the first museums to use aesthetic quality as the criteria to develop a native arts collection and was the first art museum in the United States to collect American Indian art. Over the past century the collection has grown to encyclopedic proportions and now contains nearly 20,000 art objects.

Plains & Plateau

Numbering more than 4,000 items, the DAM’s collection of Plains material includes six full-sized tipis, beaded cradleboards, ledger drawings, weapons, horse trappings, belts, blankets, headdresses, robes, shirts, dresses, and footwear.


This part of the collection features nearly 4,000 items of pottery, basketry, clothing, jewelry, and katsina dolls, and represent 25 tribal traditions.


The Artic collection consists of archaeological and ethnographic specimens and contemporary Inuit graphic art. More than 300 examples of woodblock and stone-cut prints produced by Inuit artists of the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s are represented.

Northwest Coast

The extraordinary wood, stone, and bone carving traditions of the Tlingit, Haida, Kwakwaka’wakw, and Nuxalk peoples are represented in great depth, ranging from both historic and contemporary monumental totem poles to ceremonial items to highly decorated utilitarian objects such as storage boxes and dugout canoes.

Great Lakes, Northeast & Subarctic

The major art forms of these three regions are well represented by historic beadwork, basketry, ribbonwork, and sculpture, as well as the work of notable contemporary artists.

Great Basin & California

Basketry is a great strength in these areas, from openwork winnowing baskets and beaded baskets of the Great Basin region to feathered Pomo baskets.


Three art forms from this region are significantly represented: Seminole patchwork clothing; mid-twentieth-century cultural revival of Cherokee and Choctaw basketry by the Indian Arts and Crafts Board; and Cherokee and Seminole beaded bandolier bags from the early 1800s.

The native arts department has an extensive research library consisting of 20,000 books, periodicals, field notes, and photography archives. In addition, the department holds the work of early non-Indian artists and photographers (Karl Bodmer, Charles Wimar, McKinney and Hall, Edward S. Curtis, and D. F. Barry, among others) who sought to document Indian life and art in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

Please contact for more information.

Recent publications on American Indian art that the department has contributed expertise to include:

  • Super Indian: Fritz Scholder 1967–1980. John P. Lukavic, with Jessica Horton, Eric Berkemeyer, and Kent Logan. Denver Art Museum in association with Delmonico/Prestel, 2015.
  • Revolt 1680/2180: Virgil Ortiz. Edited by John Lukavic, essay by Charles King, foreword by Herman Agoyo. Denver Art Museum, 2015.
  • Grand Procession: Artistic Visions of American Indians, The Diker Collection at the Denver Art Museum. Lois Dubin. Denver Art Museum, 2010.
  • [Re]inventing the Wheel: Advancing the Dialogue on Contemporary American Indian Art. Edited by Nancy J. Blomberg. Denver Art Museum, 2010.
  • Action and Agency: Advancing the Dialogue on Native Performance Art. Edited by Nancy J. Blomberg. Denver Art Museum, 2010.
  • Breaking the Mold: The Virginia Vogel Mattern Collection of Contemporary Native American Art. Nancy J. Blomberg and Polly Nordstrand. Denver Art Museum, 2006.
  • Reflections of the Weaver’s World: The Gloria F. Ross Collection of Contemporary Navajo Weaving. Ann Lane Hedlund. Denver Art Museum, 1992.

The native arts department is composed of the arts of the indigenous peoples of North America, Africa, and Oceania. Supporting these collections is a library of books and periodicals on specialized topics in native arts.

The American Indian art collection in the museum’s North Building represents the artistic works of nearly every tribe across the United States and Canada and all artistic traditions created within these cultures from prehistoric times to the present. Beginning in the 1920s, the Denver Art Museum was one of the first museums to use aesthetic quality as the criteria to develop such a collection and was the first art museum in the United States to collect American Indian art. Over the past century the collection has grown to encyclopedic proportions and now contains nearly 20,000 art objects.

In the American Indian art, Oceanic art, and African art collections, important modern and contemporary artists are represented; reflecting the continued but evolving artistic practice of indigenous artists and cultures.

Current Staff

  • Nancy Blomberg, Chief Curator and Curator of Native Arts
  • John Lukavic, Associate Curator of Native Arts
  • Eric Berkemeyer, Curatorial Assistant of Native Arts
  • Heather Nielsen, Associate Director of Learning and Engagement

Past Staff

  • Edgar C. McMechan, Curator
  • Frederic H. Douglas, Curator
  • Kate Peck Kent, Assistant Curator
  • Royal B. Hassrick, Curator
  • Norman Feder, Curator
  • Richard Conn, Curator
  • David Irving, Assistant Curator
  • Ryntha Johnson, Assistant Curator
  • Roger Echo-Hawk, Assistant Curator
  • Polly Nordstrand, Associate Curator

Biannual Symposium on American Indian Art

Every other year the native arts department hosts a symposium on topics related to American Indian art. Through this event the scholarly dialog on American Indian art is advanced.