Indigenous Designs

Grades 2–4

Workshop Overview

Students will tour the Nelson-Atkins collection in search of distinctive designs from various cultures, including Native American functional art. Inspired by their observations, students will make a “parfleche,” focusing on the design elements of shape and color to create patterns and balance. All supplies are provided. 


  • Students will describe and identify patterns in artwork from various cultures. 
  • Students will create a design using repeating shapes and colors. 
  • Students will identify a “parfleche” as a work of functional art in the Native American collection. 


  • Create Artwork Using a Variety of Processes and Materials  
  • Brainstorm Multiple Approaches to an Art or Design Problem  
  • Identify and Explain Where Different Cultures Illustrate History Through Art  
  • Recognize and Construct Lines of Symmetry for a 2-D Figure 

Visual Arts

  • Create artwork using a variety of processes and materials. 
  • Brainstorm multiple approaches to an art or design problem. 
  • Identify and analyze cultural associations suggested by visual imagery. 


  • Recognize and construct lines of symmetry.

Social Studies

  • Describe ways in which artistic creations serve as expressions and influence behavior of a particular culture. 


    • Design – An arrangement of lines or shapes to create a pattern or decoration. 
    • Pattern – Decorative visual repetition (organized and random) 
    • Indigenous – Originating or occurring naturally in a particular place; Native. 
    • Asymmetrical Balance – Organization of a design so that unlike objects have equal visual weight. 
    • Symmetrical Balance Organization of a design so that elements are the same on either side of a central axis. 
    • Radial Balance Organization of a design so that elements branch out from a central point. 
    • Shape – An element of art that is two-dimensional and encloses space. 
    • Organic Shape – An irregular shape or one that derives characteristics from nature. 
    • Geometric Shape – Any shape having more mathematical than organic design such as circle, square, triangle, rectangle. 
    • Functional Art – Works of art intended to be used in a practical way in addition to being aesthetically pleasing. 
    • Parfleche – A Native American rawhide bag 

Pre-Workshop Activities

  • Brainstorm or research modern day symbols. What shapes and colors do you see? How do they inform us about the idea or object they represent? 
  • Have students create symbols that represent aspects of themselves: personality traits, skills, cultural connections, etc. What shapes and colors could you use to represent something about yourself? 
  • Here are resources you can use to find out about Native American tribes from
  • The Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian site, Native Knowledge 360, has many resources for teachers including in-depth lesson plans, videos, and handouts in English and Spanish 

Post-Workshop Activities

  • Collect a variety of objects found in nature such as leaves, flowers, butterfly wings, wood, feathers, seed pods, etc. Provide a magnifying glass to look closely for patterns. Ask if the students see symmetrical, asymmetrical, or radial balance. Compare these patterns and designs with those seen in the galleries. 
  • Like Jamie Okuma’s Adaptation, many of the works in the museum’s Native American collection include beadwork. Listen to Teri Greeves, a Kiowa beadwork artist, talk about beading Converse tennis shoes.  
  • Watch other Native American artists talk about their work in videos on the Nelson-Atkins YouTube channel: