Infuse Your Beadwork with Native American Symbolism
Native American beadwork has a rich heritage of symbolism through the use of colors, gemstones, and designs to tell stories and convey meaning. If you want to learn more about these symbols, keep reading and then check out these resources from the Native American Heritage Month website to learn more about the culture and meaning behind different Native American beadwork patterns.
Symbolism of Gemstones in Native American Beadwork
One of the most popular stones used in Native American beadwork, turquoise is believed to help overcome illness and bring strength to the wearer. Native American lore tells us that when the Great Creator finished creating Mother Earth, he threw all of the remaining turquoise up into the sky, giving us the beautiful blue color to look at every day.
While not technically a gemstone, coral also has its place in Native American beadwork. It is believed to be a very soothing stone, and to be able to assist with disorders of the blood. It is also considered to be a very protective stone.
Beautiful howlite, with its light grey matrix against a stark white background, is believed to assist in concentration, relieving insomnia, and as a general relief for stress. Howlite can be dyed and sold as imitation turquoise and even imitation coral, but in its natural state, it mixes beautifully with both genuine turquoise and genuine coral!
Symbolism of Animals in Native American Beadwork
You can find beautifully carved gemstone animal beads in many local bead shops and online beading supply companies, and I love using these beads in all kinds of jewelry-making projects!
Bears are probably the easiest carved gemstone bead to find, when you’re looking for Native American-style gemstone beads to add to your beading projects. In Native American lore, the bear is considered to be one of the most powerful symbols, representing both strength and power. Because bears hibernate, it is also thought to be a symbol of renewal.
I have in my collection a number of beautiful little turtle beads, carved from both bone and gemstones. There may be a reason I’m always attracted to these Native American symbols, since the turtle is a symbol of nurturing, Mother Earth, and being grounded.
Another very popular symbol used in Native American beadwork, the wolf is a symbol of intuition, finding your path, and is thought to be a powerful spirit guide for those who are looking for a deeper meaning in their lives.
Symbolism of Colors in Native American Beadwork
The colors you use in your beading projects can also convey a meaning, based on these ideas from the traditions of Native American beadwork:
A representation of plant life, the Earth, and the season of summer. When green paint was worn under the eyes, it was believed to give powerful night vision to the wearer.
White is used to represent snow, death, or winter. It was used a symbol of peace when used as face paint.
Red is the color used to symbolize thunder, day, and sunset.
If you want to convey the meaning of the sky, water, clouds, lightning, the moon, or sadness, look to shades of blue for your beadwork.
Sunshine, day, and dawn are all represented by the color yellow in traditional Native American beadwork.
Learn More about Native American Beadwork
Check out this article about contemporary Native American artist: Meet Native American Bead Weaver Jackie Larson Bread by Lavon Peters.
Beadwork, October/November 2018 features a story on Native American beadwork from the Fort Collins Museum of Discovery’s collection.
Explore the Native American Heritage Month website which includes resources, activities and exhibits and collection at museums across the United States.
Posted May 22, 2013. Updated July 6, 2018.