Native American Regalia: A Form of Individual Artistic Expression

Photo courtesy of, by Anna-Webber

Photo courtesy of, by Anna-Webber

I recently attended  the 23rd Annual Woodlands and High Plains Powwow, a traditional powwow to celebrate and share tribal cultures in the area.  I was intrigued by all of the beautiful colors and designs that danced past me.  The outfits worn by the dancers are called regalia and each is a form of artistic expression with elements chosen by the individual.  The colors, designs, and placement of designs are all symbolic to the dancer’s life.

A friend of mine, Larissa Harris, danced in the powwow.  To demonstrate the complexity and amount of symbolism found on an individual’s regalia, I asked what personal and artistic expression was incorporated into hers.  Larissa explained,  “My colors (purple, green, and white specifically) are traditional Iroquois colors.  The use of butterflies also goes along with traditional themes; Iroquois bead work and designs incorporate realistic depictions of nature as well as ‘whimsies’, like the abstract designs on the edges of my bead-work on the back of my dress.  I was able to incorporate wampum into my bead-work, which was an important thing to me because of the sacredness of wampum to my people.  The V-pattern placement of my jingles represents the female figure in an abstract way.”

A photo I took of Larissa in her regalia

A photo I took of Larissa in her regalia

If you haven’t been to a powwow, I would recommend it.  Many are open to the public and provide a great learning opportunity for spectators.  The Woodlands and High Plains Powwow was my first powwow experience and one I will not forget.  It was this experience that actually inspired me to start my current acrylic series on indigenous dance.


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