Historically Southwest Art referred to art created by Native Americans of the Southwestern, United States. This is still typically true, but presently it may also include art created by non-Native American artists and artisans of the region whose art is stylistically associated with traditional Southwest art forms such as painting, sandpainting, basketry, jewelry, weaving, pottery, Kachina doll making and jewelry-making to name a few.
Tribes most closely associated with Southwest Art are the Pueblo, Hopi, and Navajo, but there are others as well. Artists of the Southwest have traditionally relied on materials that are found within the region such as silver and turquoise. Many of artistically rendered items had and continue to have significant meanings that may have been derived from the materials they were made from or their ceremonial function. Turquoise, for example, was believed to represent happiness and good fortune. Kachina dolls, on the other hand, had ceremonial and ritualistic significance for tribes like the Hopi who participated in Kachina rituals related to farming and rain.
Pottery is well-known example of Southwest Art that continues to be fashioned by contemporary artists. While there are nuances that are tribe-specific, an overview of Southwest pottery would suggest muted coloration in desert shades. Various sizes of jugs and pots could be used around the home while more decorative pieces might have ritualistic importance. Many artists still use traditional methods to create their pottery.
Jewelry is a well-known facet of Southwest Art. Along with silver and turquoise jewelry, beadwork is also a major component of Southwest jewelry—particularly beading. Jewelry in the Southwest style might be symbolic and depict an actual Native American symbol or simply be worn as decoration. In some tribes the wearing of jewelry and its removal symbolized marital status. Of all the North American tribes, Southwest jewelry continues to be, stylistically, the most popular tribal jewelry in the U.S.
Of all the Native American arts, basketry is the oldest. Archaeologists have discovered baskets from the Southwest that are just shy of eight thousand years old. Each tribe employs its own traditional methods and materials to make baskets. Each type of basket has characteristic patterns as well as a unique shape. They also employ different weaving techniques that are somewhat dependant on the materials used. Coiled sumac or willow wood are two typical materials found in Southwest basketry.
Clothing and woven blankets and rugs are also popular examples of Southwest Art. Often these materials feature Native American motifs and designs—especially geometric designs. Many of these styles have reached mainstream popularity and decorate the homes or people in other parts of the country. These items that are still made according to tradition are well-known for their quality and so continue to be popularly sold. Other works of Southwest Art, like painting, for instance, typically employ motifs that are regional. Such artworks may also represent the desert landscape of the region as well as the Native American people themselves.