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Apache Arts and Crafts

Updated on August 3, 2009

Baskets, Clothes, Pottery, and Beads

 The Apache Indians are well-known today for their unique culture, but more specifically, their talent in art.  Their art mainly encompassed silversmithing, beadwork, sculpting, pottery, and intricate basket weaving. 


      Basket-weaving is one of the oldest known forms of art of the Apache Indians.  Evidence shows that the craft goes back 8000 years in the Southwest, the region where the Apaches lived.  The baskets of the Apaches’ were made for look, but also for use.  Apache women would pack their belongings into the baskets before a long journey to a new place to live.  The baskets were made to hold heavy loads over long distances of time.  This meant that the baskets needed to be made with care and precision, to prevent them from breaking.  They were made mostly from plants, reeds, and herbs - more specifically from yucca leaves, willow reeds, and juniper bark.  The Apache decorated intricate geometric and animal designs on their baskets with dye made from various flowers.  Apache women wove four different types of baskets.  They were trays and bowls, storage jars, baskets for carrying things, and water jars.  The trays and bowls were the most common form of the baskets made (picture above), and were used for serving and boiling food, holding flour, sifting through seeds, and crushing berries.  Most of the different baskets made were done so using what is called the coiling and twining technique.  Many times, the Apache would coat the inside of the baskets with buckskin, causing the basket to be more water-proof or to protect whatever valuables may have been inside.  Basket-making was a large part of Apache life.       


     Beadwork was also an important aspect of the Apache art.  Before the Europeans invaded the America’s, the Apaches made beads by carving natural resources such as shells, coral, turquoise, silver, wood, amber, ivory, and different parts from animals.  After the arrival of the European glass bead, many Native Americans began to use glass to make their beads.  Glass beads are still used by modern Apache Indians as the main material for their beads today.  The primitive Apaches used many different designs and styles for their beadwork.  One style better known of the Southwestern Indians, which included the Apaches, was the shell and turquoise heishi bead.  Many Native Americans of various tribes used beads as trade items.  Beads still remain an important part of Apache life, although now more for decoration than for trading purposes.   


      Apache clothes and jewelry was also considered an art of the primitive Apache Indians.  The Apache women used the skins of deer, antelope, elk, and buffalo to make most of their clothes.  They would remove all the hair from the skins and dry them out, creating a type of hard leather.  The Apaches would then rub the skins, making them much more bendable and stretchy.  Finally, the rawhides (skins) would be made into various items, including leather bags, blankets, and clothing.  Apache men usually wore buckskin around the waist and around their legs.  They made moccasins to protect their ankles and calves from rocks and cactus’s.  Many men also wore a headband on their foreheads.  Apache women generally wore buckskin skirts with their own ponchos and moccasins.  The women also enjoyed wearing earrings made from pieces of shells, and bracelets made of brass and silver.  More modern Apaches now wear cotton shirts/skirts with black vests, although the clothes are still made in the style of the Apache, including beads and animal symbols.   


            The Apache art included several other forms, including the making of deerskin storage bags, gourds made into cups, wood and bones made into plates and spoons, and the handcrafting of pots.  Many of the objects used by the Apache Indians, such as clothes and weapons, were a form of art because they were hand-crafted for various purposes with care and decoration.   


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