Five Things to Know About Contemporary Native American Artists

Contemporary Native American Art

Contemporary Native American art reflects modern ideas, values and experiences. The art can be described as an embodiment of creativity and innovation striving to balance and push traditional cultural boundaries and norms. With an evolving cultural identity, we’ve put together five ways in which contemporary Native artists are shaping and re-defining new standards in Native American art.

1. Balancing Two Worlds

Landscapes of the Southwest are known for arid deserts, red rock landscapes, rugged mountains, natural wonders and endless blue skies. These diverse landscapes provide Native American artists with rich clays, natural plants and an array of wonders to use as inspiration when creating timeless works of art. Contemporary artists are inspired just as those artists of the past by the natural world around them. Artists like Harlan Reano take inspiration for his bold contemporary designs in native Southwestern flora while using traditional methods to create his pigments from wild plants.

2. Inspired by Traditions

Contemporary artists seek inspiration from traditional styles, materials, and techniques while developing modern interpretations that influence the future. Artists like Ellouise Padilla of Santo Domingo Pueblo honor the traditional mosaic inlay shell of her Pueblo while adding a modern silversmithing techniques, bold accents and smooth silhouettes to create a style of her own. Finding inspiration from the past inspires today’s generation of artist who will in turn inspire future generations creating an exciting future with broader exposure with specialized techniques and experimenting with new materials and mediums.

3. Made from Unique Materials

In addition to the natural materials utilized, artists explored and experimented with new materials available via trade routes. Turquoise, sterling silver, woven textiles, natural fiber basketry and hand-made clay pottery emerged as desired materials within Native American art with artists like Pat Pruitt of Laguna Pueblo pushing the limits of traditional techniques and using unique materials like titanium along with special fabrication techniques to develop his distinctive style of stainless-steel Native American jewelry.

4. Pushing Boundaries

Contemporary Native American artists are pushing boundaries of traditional artwork while exploring themes like cultural norms, politics and modern society in their work. Craftmanship has evolved from utilitarian needs and reflections of daily life to intricate and sophisticated works of art collected around the world. The evolution of Native American art has given contemporary artists freedom to test the limits and push the boundaries creating an outlet for deeper artistic expression that reflected the modern experience and challenges of Native American communities. Artists like Jaque Fragua of Jemez Pueblo are exploring identity and repurposing cultural iconography.

5. Connected to Symbolism

The traditional seasonal calendar inspires many of the designs prominent in traditional Native American artwork, these designs include animals and representations of nature. One of these symbols, the dragonfly, is an important symbol in Pueblo culture. Seen as messengers, the dragonfly is said to speak to thunder and clouds asking to bring moisture and blessings to the people. While some contemporary artists build upon stories and symbols of the past incorporating them into modern designs and forms others like Navajo artist Ryan Singer use modern juxtaposition and pop references to connect this artistry to a modern audience.

For centuries Native American artists have created fine art in both traditional and contemporary styles with hundreds of highly skilled artists who maintain the highest levels of craftsmanship and technical excellence. They honor their ancestors, cultural heritage and the artistic legacies passed down to them, while also pushing the boundaries of what Native American art is. Explore our special collection of contemporary Native artwork and find your next special piece to cherish.



  • Thank You for sharing this with us; am an indigenous descendant from Ani Yun Wiya, appreciate your efforts and communication immensely! Bless 🙏💖✨

  • Blending the traditional and modern art is the spirit of the artist!!🦅

    Debbie Fullenwider
  • I absolutely love every one of the items which have been so lovingly produced. When you look at the jewelry or the pottery, etc., it is as though the pride and the respect for tradition speaks to you. But the younger generations are putting their own “stamp” on tradition that is wonderful.

    Judy Kay Reyher

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