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Ancient Nez Perce Art Still Flourishes

Beadwork and horse regalia are glorious art forms for the Nimiipuu

The Nez Perce tribe of Oregon, Washington, and Idaho is known for their illustrious leader, Chief Joseph (his Nez Perce name, Hinmatóowyalahtq̓it meant “Thunder Rolling Down the Mountain”), and their amazing spotted horses, Appaloosas. But they are also a complicated and industrious tribe known for their inventiveness and magnificent beaded artwork. That artwork manifested itself not only in their clothing, moccasins, tipis, blankets, and household gear but also especially in the decoration of their prized horses.

The gear they created for their horses included bridles, rein decorations, native saddles, saddles ornaments, banners, blankets, martingales (chest straps), headgear and head bonnets, stirrup covers, and saddle bags. The Nez Perce created most of these pieces from cured hides, that were then dyed, embroidered, decorated with drawings, or decorated with beads made from a wide variety of materials, natural and also traded beads. Natural materials included shells, bones, pebbles, claws, nuts, seeds, porcupine quills, horns, pieces of metal, bird talons, and sometimes even animal heads or animal fetuses (these especially for bags called parfleches). The Nez Perce were also known for their fine basket weaving from grasses and organic materials and sometimes incorporated this art form in their horse regalia as well.

The Nez Perce were especially renowned for their beautiful and extremely colorful designs, which could be geometric, floral, or narrative images, usually of animals, hunting, or war exploits.

The art form still flourishes today among the Nez Perce and is worn as magnificent regalia at powwows, weddings, parades, reenactment events, movie scenes, and other special occasions. Many antique and contemporary examples of Nez Perce's work are also exhibited at art galleries, fine arts museums, the Smithsonian, and numerous Native American museums.

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