Nativity by Snowflake Flower (Stephanie Rhoades)
My wife and I have a collection of Nativities, that is, scenes of the birth of Jesus, as described in the gospels of Matthew and Luke. Most of the nativities in our collection were created by Native American Indians.
American Indians had their own distinctive art forms even before the Europeans arrived. As time went by, the Indians produced an amazing variety of art, some of it strictly for use in their culture, some of it more or less reluctantly for sale, all the way to items manufactured inside Indian "factories" for sale to tourists.
The nativities are an art form, but often it's not just for the joy of creating a piece of art, but also an industry, a way to make money. Making nativity scenes is partly a reflection of the Christianization of the Indians and partly just hitting on an idea that will sell to tourists. The National Museum of the American Indian in Washington DC has excellent displays devoted to the good and bad effects of converting Indians to Christianity.
The factory- and mass-produced items for sale include some of high quality, and other things that are not very well made. Some items are "authentic", such as the Kachina figures and dolls that the Hopi tribes have always made (and often later sold), whereas the Navaho tribes also make "Kachinas" that have nothing to do with their culture, but are inauthentic items just for sale.
There are also artists who are not Indian, but whose work is inspired by the Indian art. Some of this work is of high quality, and we have several such pieces.
Other items are not made by American Indians, but sold as such: for example, a "Native American Style Christmas Nativity Set", for sale on this webpage. Notice the word "style" in the description of this item: it's only in the Native American style. Tastes differ, but I regard this item as total trash. (Look at a larger image of the faces of the Mary and Jesus figures. Unlike the faces on the Sacagawea dollar, these images don't look like American Indians at all.)
Many of the actual Indian nativities are of startling beauty, with striking design -- some of it rightly regarded as "inspirational". For example, the Native artists have adapted the nativity scene to their own surroundings, introducing local animals (badgers, bears) into the scene, and using local gifts brought by the kings (turquoise, corn). Here is a quote from the website of the Adobe Gallery in Santa Fe:
In their own tradition, the Indian artisans have made the figurines in the likeness of Indians. The Blessed Mother may wear her hair up in a chonga, be wrapped in an Indian blanket, and be wearing moccasins. Joseph may have long, wrapped braids, moccasins and an Indian sash. The Three Wise Men may bring gifts of Indian bread, green chilies, a rabbit, or maybe a bowl of stew or several ears of corn. Baby Jesus may be dressed in beaded buckskin or wrapped in an Indian blanket. The animals around the manger may be black bears, deer, antelope or rabbits.
The picture at the top shows an example of what I and others regard as a top-quality nativity, with seven pieces. The artist who created this piece, known as Snowflake Flower, is particularly admired among many who are interested in this art form. We own two nativities by this artist: From 1984 and From 2010.
Our Own Collection of Nativities:
Revision date: 2013-03-24. (Please use ISO 8601, the International Standard Date and Time Notation.)