Exploring Animal Symbolism in Native American Art

Animal Symbolism in Native American Art


At the Indian Pueblo Store, we work to connect you with resources and information to enhance your understanding of Native American art and artists of the Southwest in a meaningful way. It is our hope that this guide to animal symbolism helps enhance your understanding and appreciation of American Indian Art and the ways in which artists incorporate reverence, respect, and deep meaning within their artwork.


Picaso Marble Mountain Lion Fetish Carving

Symbols of protection are frequently represented throughout Native American Art with mountain lions. Their keen eyesight, stealth, and agility serve as the guardians of the north. The bear, with its strength, guards the west. The determined badger is the guardian of the south. The wolf, with its strong sense of family, is the guardian of the east. Soaring above us is the eagle, known as the guardian of the skies. The mole, with its ability to sense and understand the darkness, is the guardian below. Often depicted with a heartline, these protectors are cherished and become treasured items in any collection.

Domninic Arquero (Cochiti) Mother Bear Print

Longevity & Self-Reliance

Across the hot desert Southwest lives the tortoise, and along rivers, streams, and lakes lives the turtle. Both are highly regarded animals respected for their longevity, self-reliance, and tenacity. One of the oldest symbols representing Mother Earth, the turtle is also symbolic in many Native American creation stories.

Kevin Quam Labradorite Turtle Fetish Carving

The Giver of Life

Symbolism representing water can be seen across many types of Native American art. From the coming of rain depicted through cloud motifs to the flowing water painted on pottery, to the animals like the turtles and frogs carved by Zuni Pueblo carvers. One symbol that is often seen is the Avanyu, the water serpent that brought the water and shaped the rivers throughout the Southwest.

Erik Fender Black on Black Double Sided Avanyu Plate

Native American artists are known for their uncanny ability to spark inspiration through their work. Not only is the artwork beautiful, but it is also filled with meaning both in the stories and traditions passed down through generations of artists and in the rich symbolism that animals and other symbols represent. At the Indian Pueblo Store, we like to say we are your trusted connection to Native American Art. For more information, subscribe to our newsletter.

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  • Thank you.

    Mike Schlesinger
  • Thank you so much for helping us understand and appreciate the meaning and significance behind the beauty of Native American art.

    Mike Schlesinger
  • Your deep love abides in All you are

    Diane V Fay
  • Thank you for these informational pieces. I learn so much and get an even greater appreciation for the beauty and symbolism of Native American art and artists.

    Jill Garcia
  • Love the beauty and symbolism in Native American art. I have just recently found that my mother’s dad was Native American. No other info as all older relatives have passed on. Still, I have always been drawn to all things Native American, especially art and jewelry!! Thanks for sharing the beautiful offerings, and educating us to the meanings!

    Jacquie Hepfer

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