The Importance of Size and Scale in First Nations Art


First Nations art is a vibrant and diverse cultural expression that has captivated people for centuries. From the intricate beadwork of the Plains to the towering totem poles of the Pacific Northwest, Indigenous art in North America is a testament to the creativity, skill, and resilience of its makers. One of the most striking features of First Nations art is its use of size and scale, which can convey the significance and power of the subject matter. In this blog post, we will explore how size and scale are integral to First Nations art, reflecting cultural values and beliefs that have been passed down through generations. By examining this aspect of Indigenous art, we can gain a deeper appreciation for the rich and complex traditions of Indigenous peoples in North America.

The Significance of Size and Scale in First Nations Art

Conveying Significance and Power

In First Nations art, size and scale play a crucial role in conveying the significance and power of the subject matter. Larger pieces of art can represent important events, people, or animals in a community's history or mythology. For example, totem poles are often large and intricate, depicting important figures and stories from First Nations culture. The use of size and scale can evoke a sense of awe and reverence for the subject matter, emphasizing its importance to the community.

Moreover, the use of size and scale can also reflect the social hierarchy of a community. In some cases, larger pieces of art may be reserved for those in positions of power or authority within the community. This further emphasizes the importance of the subject matter and its connection to the community's values and beliefs.

Reflecting Cultural Values and Beliefs

First Nations art is deeply rooted in cultural values and beliefs. Size and scale are often used to reflect these values and beliefs in a visual way. For example, some communities place a high value on the interconnectedness of all living things, and their art may reflect this by depicting animals or plants in large, intricate designs. The use of size and scale can also reflect the importance of community and collective identity. Large pieces of art may be created collaboratively by members of a community, emphasizing their shared values and beliefs.

Furthermore, the use of traditional materials and techniques in creating large pieces of art can also reflect a community's commitment to preserving their cultural heritage. Many First Nations artists use materials such as cedar wood, animal hides, or natural pigments to create their art. By using these traditional materials, they are keeping alive the cultural practices that have been passed down through generations.

Indigenous Designed Tote Bag Bringing Good Medicine By Jackie Traverse

One great example of First Nations art that utilizes size is an indigenous designed tote bag created by Jackie Traverse. The tote bag is fully lined with an inside pocket, cotton handle, and zipper closure. The space of this large tote bag is big enough for all of your daily stuffs, making it perfect for holding personal items such as an iPad, laptop, cellphone, purse, passport, notebook, card, make-up, and so on.

Jackie Traverse is a multi-disciplinary First Nations female artist who calls the city of Winnipeg home. A large portion of her work contains a combination of popular and traditional cultural reflections, which she portrays through her knowledge of urban living, contemporary visual art, traditional craft, and her own cultural practices. She works in many mediums from painting in oils and acrylics to mixed media, sculpture and stop motion animation.

Traverse is widely known in art communities across Canada. Her paintings, drawings, documentaries, and sculptures speak to the realities of being an Aboriginal woman. She has created stop-motion animation on missing and murdered women in Canada, another on the sixties scoop titled “Two Scoops” and “Empty” a tribute to her estranged mother. Jackie is deeply moved by the injustices faced by First Nations people. She is committed to her community and teaches art in public schools, which bring together the traditional teachings of the First Nations to various cultures.

Practical Implications of Size and Scale in First Nations Art

First Nations art is known for its intricate designs, vibrant colors, and unique use of materials. However, size and scale are also important considerations when creating First Nations art. In this section, we will explore the practical implications of size and scale in First Nations art.

Creating Large Pieces of Art

Creating large pieces of art requires a high level of skill and expertise. It can take months or even years to complete a large piece of art, and it often requires a team of artists to work together. Artists who are able to create large pieces of art are highly respected within their communities. These pieces may be used in public ceremonies or as part of a community's cultural heritage.

For example, totem poles are a common form of large First Nations art. These towering sculptures can reach heights of up to 40 feet and are carved from cedar trees. Each totem pole tells a story or represents a family or clan within the community.

Creating Small Pieces of Art

Smaller pieces of art may be more suitable for personal use or as gifts. Creating smaller pieces of art can also allow for greater experimentation and innovation. Artists can try out new techniques or designs on a smaller scale before committing to a larger piece.

Small pieces of art can be passed down through families as treasured heirlooms. For example, beaded jewelry is a popular form of small First Nations art. These intricate designs are often made by hand using traditional techniques passed down through generations.

The Role of Size and Scale in Achieving Artistic Goals

When it comes to First Nations art, the size and scale of a piece can have a significant impact on its ability to achieve artistic goals. In this section, we will explore how size and scale can be used to tell a story or convey a message, as well as how they can be incorporated with traditional materials and techniques.

Telling a Story or Conveying a Message

One of the primary functions of First Nations art is to tell stories and convey messages. The use of size and scale can play an important role in capturing the attention of viewers and conveying the intended message. Larger pieces of art may be more effective at telling complex stories or conveying nuanced messages. For example, a large totem pole may be able to tell the story of an entire clan or tribe, while a smaller piece may only be able to convey a single aspect of that story.

The use of size and scale can also create a sense of intimacy or distance between the viewer and the subject matter. A small carving may invite the viewer to examine it closely, while a large sculpture may create a sense of awe or reverence.

Incorporating Traditional Materials and Techniques

Many First Nations artists choose to work with traditional materials and techniques, such as wood carving or beadwork. However, creating large pieces of art using these materials can be challenging. It requires a deep understanding of the materials and their properties, as well as specialized tools and techniques.

Despite these challenges, incorporating traditional materials and techniques into larger pieces can add layers of meaning and symbolism to the art. For example, using cedar wood in a totem pole may symbolize strength and resilience, while incorporating beadwork into a larger piece may represent the interconnectedness of all things.

The Intersection of First Nations Art and Contemporary Issues

First Nations art is not just a form of creative expression, but it also holds significant cultural and historical value. Large pieces of art, such as totem poles or carvings, can become important landmarks or symbols of a community's identity. Smaller pieces of art, such as jewelry or pottery, can be passed down through families as treasured heirlooms. It is crucial to preserve these cultural artifacts for future generations.

First Nations art can also be a powerful tool for promoting cultural awareness and understanding. The use of First Nations art in contemporary fashion and design can help to raise awareness of Indigenous cultures and traditions. Supporting First Nations artists and their communities can help to promote economic and social justice.

Moreover, First Nations art can address contemporary issues such as land rights, environmental justice, and social inequality. The use of First Nations art in activism and advocacy can help to amplify Indigenous voices and perspectives. For instance, the Idle No More movement used traditional drumming and dancing as a form of peaceful protest against government policies that threatened Indigenous land rights.

First Nations art can also be used in healing and wellness practices. For example, smudging with sage or sweetgrass is a traditional practice that involves burning herbs to cleanse the body, mind, and spirit. This practice has been adopted by many non-Indigenous people seeking alternative forms of healing.


In conclusion, size and scale are not just aesthetic choices in First Nations art, but hold deep cultural and spiritual significance. By appreciating the importance of size and scale in Indigenous art, we can gain a greater understanding of the traditions and values of Indigenous peoples. It is crucial that we support First Nations artists and their communities to preserve and celebrate their rich cultural heritage. As we strive for social justice, environmental sustainability, and cultural diversity, it is essential that we recognize the contributions of Indigenous peoples to our collective history and future. Let us continue to learn from and honor the traditions of First Nations art, and work towards a more inclusive and respectful society for all. Take action by supporting Indigenous artists and educating yourself on their culture and traditions. Together, we can promote greater understanding and respect for the diverse perspectives that make our world a richer place.

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