What Arts & Crafts Did the Iroquois Do?

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The Iroquois are well known for their elaborate beadwork.
The Iroquois are well known for their elaborate beadwork. (Image: Hemera Technologies/AbleStock.com/Getty Images)

The Iroquois created quality and original arts and crafts. Before the arrival of the Europeans, they used traditional materials such as corn husk, hide, clay, wood, stone, shell and bone to create decorative objects. After European colonialism, they incorporated glass, cloth and metal into their art. The Iroquois excelled at sculpting, beadwork, pottery and basketry.

Basketry

Making baskets was an important part of the Iroquois culture. A basket was an object of everyday use as well as a decorative element in every Iroquois home. The Iroquois created baskets out of wood, usually ash, that needed to be dry, splinter-free and perfectly smooth. The baskets came in many different shapes and dimensions, decorated with ribbon, feathers, beads, colored splint, sweet-grass, cord or fur to make them more attractive.

Beadwork

The Iroquois used beads to decorate clothing and shoes, as well as to make necklaces, rings, bracelets and earrings. The artists utilized many different colors and sizes of beads in their work. The beads were made of glass, plastic, metal or even shell, which made the beadwork more interesting for the artist and more attractive for the prospective purchasers. Sometimes, the artists used beadwork to tell a story or represent an idea, belief or symbol. Among the most popular Iroquois symbols are those of the Tree of Peace, tribal animals and wampum belt.

Sculptures

The Iroquois originally made their sculptures out of natural materials such as wood, stone, clay or antler. Later, the artists introduced man-made materials such as plastic, metal or fabric to make the sculptures more exciting. The most common theme for the sculpture is the natural world, particularly animals and people. The sculptures are very vivid and very often symbolic in their meaning. They reflect the Iroquois beliefs and a system of values. They may even tell a story or teach about the Iroquois culture.

Pottery

Pottery is an old craft that the Iroquois did extremely well. In the past, the Iroquois used raw clay that they dug from the ground. The craftspeople made their pots by hand, rounding the bottoms, which helped to heat their food thoroughly in the fire. The artists decorated the pottery with geometric or nature-inspired shapes or beads. The Iroquois women used the pots to store various materials or to cook food in them.

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