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Native peoples have inhabited North Carolina for thousands of years, and some of the earliest traces of their culture can be found in the art objects they left behind. From the most ancient artifacts to works being created by contemporary Native artists, North Carolina has a rich cultural heritage that extends all the way back to the Paleoindian period and continues today. Below you will find a short video overview of Native art and culture in North Carolina.

Petroglyph from Jackson County, North Carolina, 3000-1000 BC.

In western North Carolina, ancient rock art (in the form of petroglyphs and pictographs) provide us with a glimpse into the early cultural histories of Native peoples. This early art may be more than 5,000 years old! For this reason, when we talk about Native arts and crafts, “recent” is a relative term.

Middle Qualla (AD 1450-1700) vessels from the Coweeta Creek site. The bottom two are decorated with incised designs between the rim and shoulder; the top two have incised, punctated, and applied-clay decorations.

Native arts and crafts are not only beautiful, but most also take on a utilitarian form. For example, everyday household items like pottery, baskets, and blankets. Designs are specific to the artist’s culture and the history and traditions of their tribe, and the materials they use coincide with their natural availability. Contextual clues, like the materials used and the techniques employed (e.g. style of weaving, formation and decoration of pottery vessels, etc.), help us to trace art objects back to the region, and sometimes even the exact source, where they were created.

Today, Native artists not only carry on their ancestral traditions by creating traditional arts and crafts, but also through the incorporation of their heritage into contemporary works. In the sidebar to the left, can learn more about communities and artists from around North Carolina. Although many Native artists don’t have their own websites and exhibit spaces, their work can often be found at powwows and heritage festivals throughout the state!