Bolo Neck Tie

Lesson submitted by Darilynn Ronn (Art teacher) of Northeast Range School.

Zuni Indian, Hopi Indian, and Navajo Indian bola ties are true marks of the Native American culture of the Southwestern United States. Each Native American bolo tie is unique. As the Euro-Americans moved west, they adopted the bolo tie as a part of their outfit. Even today, the western (cowboy) culture adopts the bolo tie as a part of their outfit. Women wear them too, only more loosely around their neck. You can even find the bolo tie on the Boy Scout and Cub Scout uniform (they call it a "slide"). The beaded bolo tie is also a tradition for the Ojibwe people. In the tradition of elaborate bead work, many applied highly decorated beading to bolo ties. Today there are many types of bolo ties: they can be made from such material as stones and stoneware, and depict images such as team logos and family pictures.

Materials Needed


Art Materials


Activity Process


I wore a Bolo Tie to class that my father made me - made of polished Jade - and asked the students to think of other bolos they've seen in the community, on TV, in movies, and in groups or clubs. I gave an example: the Cub Scouts use bolos as part of their uniform, though they call it a "slide". I brought the conversation back to the fact that the origin of bolos come from American Indian tribes of the southwest, and from there spread to other Native Tribes and Nations across the U.S., as well as within non-Native traditions (cowboys, ranchers, "western wear" - which is the core of style in contemporary rodeo sport).Explain to students that the bolo tie we'll be making is a little different - we'll be creating a single bolo bead large enough to fit both strings through and with a decorative pattern.


Talk about ways to work and make objects in clay. Explore the techniques of clay work. Demonstrate how to make a bead out of clay. Explain how to put a hole in the bead and explain that clay will shrink as it dries therefore they have to make the hole a little bigger than they want. Demonstrate how to make a repeating pattern around the outside of the bead. Review what qualifies as a repeating pattern.


  1. Each student receives a small lump of clay and canvas mat. Write the student's name on their mat.
  2. Students knead their clay to remove air bubbles.
  3. Students should practice creating patterns in their clay through a variety of mark-making techniques (scratching or drawing into the surface with a pointed tool or pencil). Patterns can also be pressed into the clay using objects with raised surfaces or interesting textures.
  4. Show students how to make a round ball of clay by rolling it against their palm and canvas mat (this needs to be big enough for both strings to fit through).
  5. Once rounds are made, ask students to create their patterns while being careful not to smash the roundness of the bead.
  6. Next, students will put their holes in the bead. To do this without destroying the pattern, use a needle tool that goes through the clay easily. The hole needs to be large enough to fit both strings through (remember the bead will shrink some in the kiln).
  7. Students leave their beads on their mat to dry. Once the beads are bone dry, students fire them with the assistance of an art teacher or ceramicist.
  8. Students can paint the fired beads with watercolor paint.
  9. Students pick out yarn or leather to lace their Bolo bead (two yarn ends or two leather ends through the hole in the bead). Students can add pony beads in a repeating pattern and add a matching feather on the end. (The bolo can be tied below the bead if the hole is too big.)


Students will model their Bolo Ties for classmates and reflect on the repeating patterns, the process of making them from clay, and what they learned about art and culture.


Did the students make a working Bolo Tie? Did students make a repeating pattern with beads on the ends of their laces?

Vocabulary Words


Students may want to make more than one bead each to give away to family or friends, or trade with a classmate. Also, the Native American bolo ties featured in the handout were hand crafted by Hopi, Zuni, and Navajo Indian jewelry makers and silversmiths using sterling silver with either Sleeping Beauty turquoise or natural red coral.

Grade Levels


Primary Content Area

American Indian Learner Outcomes

Content Standards