Many Native artists incorporate traditional aspects and ancestral knowledge from their culture into their work. This concept of tradition links Native art today to the objects, images, and experiences from the past.
Some of the oldest and longest-lasting images that humans made in the Southwest are mysterious markings and pictures pecked or painted on cliffs, alcoves, and boulders. These images are generally referred to as “Rock Art,” but are more a type of communication than art. Perhaps they should be called Rock Writings instead, as they communicate culturally significant ideas and messages. Petroglyphs and pictographs span thousands of years across not only time but also cultures. Rock writings are messages frozen in time and many carry aspects of native history and culture that present-day tribal members can still decipher.
Other forms of messages or communication have not lasted as long as Rock Writings have. Sand paintings are image creations often made for ceremonies fashioned of colored loose sand grains that are wiped away within a few hours after their purpose is fulfilled. It is also possible paintings similar to rock writings were made on bark or animal hides, but have broken down over time destroying all evidence of their existence.
Paintings and art are a way that many artists express culturally significant ideas today like Rock Writings did thousands of years ago. Different materials and surfaces are used today, like canvas, paper, and even music records and skateboards.
Non-Native people began discovering the work of many Native painters by the early 1900s. In 1932, Hopi artist Fred Kabotie was commissioned to paint the Hopi Room on the first level of the Desert View Watchtower. Kabotie was chosen by the architect, Mary Colter, to create a room that would share the culture and history of a tribe closely tied to the ancestors who lived in the canyon many generations before.
In the 1950s and 60s, the Civil Rights and ethnic pride movements rekindled an interest in American Indian cultures, religions, and arts. Many Native artists incorporate traditional aspects and ancestral knowledge from their culture into their work. This concept of tradition links Native art today to the objects, images, and experiences from the past.
Nathan BegayDiné (Navajo)
Nathan was born and raised in Klagatoh, Arizona, and has been creating unique paintings for more than 30 years. He started drawing with pencils at an early age, and as the years passed, he expanded into different mediums such as color pencil, pens, acrylics, and even tattooing. He gained experience by participating in art shows and asking questions of other artists. With the acquisition of a color wheel, and the study of graffiti, his art grew into the style you see in his paintings today. His inspiration for his work comes from his family, public misconceptions about the Navajo people and their culture, and the decreasing use of the Navajo language. Nathan says the primary reason behind his passion for painting stems from the desire to tell the stories of his Diné culture and his people.
Beverly BlacksheepDiné (Navajo)
Beverly is inspired by her Diné (Navajo) people, the rich cultural heritage and traditions set in the vast desert landscape. She is a daughter and granddaughter of weavers and her inspiration and desire to express her creativity was realized while she was growing up in Salina Springs, Arizona. Beverly’s early work was rendered in Gouache and technical ink, later on, she ventured into acrylics and oils on canvas and experimented with other mediums for variety and expression. Her unique style of painting evolved into what many observers of her work describe as “Traditional Santa Fe Studio Style.” She works with a palette of soft, as well as vibrant colors, sometimes bordered by geometric designs, symbolic of Navajo weavings, revealing a sense of harmony and balance with Mother Earth. Contact Beverly by emailing email@example.com or by visiting her website https://bblacksheep.artspan.com/home or https://www.beverlyblacksheep.com.
Penelope JoeDiné (Navajo)
Penelope is from Tanner Springs Wide Ruins in Arizona. She has been an artist since she was very little but started painted when she was 13 years old. When she was only seven, she noticed that he had a knack for drawing horses after many of the students in her class would ask her to draw horses for them. Living on a ranch, horses, and livestock are everything to Penelope’s family. Her family members always supported and inspired her to draw and create. “Art was the best gift my uncles ever gave me,” says Penelope. She unexpectedly lost one of her uncles to a car accident and her art is one way to always remember him. Penelope loves to paint the “Navajo Horse Story” and is branching out from acrylic to oil and also painting other Navajo stories.
Jerrel SingerDiné (Navajo)
Jerrel is a member of the Diné people. He is born for the Ashiihi (Salt People) Clan and Kinyaa’aanii (Towering Rock People) Clan. He is a painter originally from Tuba City. He is a representative of a larger family unit that exudes contemporary Native American artistic talent. Jerrel is an abstract landscape artist. His work captures the daylight and nightscapes colors and shadows of the Navajo Reservation and of the Southwest. Jerrel paints scenes that are recognizable as desert, sky, and clouds but are represented in an abstract fashion.
Shondinii WaltersDiné (Navajo)
Shondinii is originally from Tuba City, Arizona. She had a life-changing experience that caused her to move and continue her education in Santa Fe, New Mexico. She works in multiple mediums such as painting, sculpture, and jewelry. Each medium derives from different inspirations of family and cultural experiences. Her paintings depict women and children in traditional to modern Navajo fashion to show cultural pride from ancestral history to modern times. Her artwork is a continuous learning outlet for self-improvement and awareness.
Baje Whitethorne Sr.Diné (Navajo)
Baje grew up on the Navajo Reservation near Shonto, Arizona. Currently, Baje resides in Flagstaff, Arizona, and he continues to pursue his childhood interests of storytelling and art. As a child, he was first drawn into the world of storytelling when he and his brothers would make up stories on the way to their grandmother's house. His artwork reflects his homeland and rich culture, depicting striking landscapes and the harmony of the Navajo way of life. In most of his pieces is a small folding chair, popularly regarded as Baje's personal trademark.
Kyle YazzieDiné (Navajo)
Kyle is an acrylic painter and a member of the Diné. As a child, Kyle enjoyed other crafts and artwork, but he was inspired by watching his mother paint. His mother taught him the basics of painting and she has been the greatest influence on his work. Kyle has been painting since he was 10 years old. He draws inspiration from his culture, stories, the landscape, and other people’s art. The sky, the land, his family, and friends all give Kyle new ideas and perspectives on what to paint. He always has his eyes and ears open and ready for new inspiration. Kyle enjoys painting what he knows and what he’s learned. Kyle would like to give recognition to Art of the People for inviting him to their events and allowing him to advance his skills.
Kevin Horace QuannieHopi
Kevin, a Hopi-Diné contemporary artist has carved Kachina dolls since 1980 and also learned silversmithing. He has also delved into a new art medium, painting. Some of Kevin's most frequent creations are of the Butterfly and Shalako Boy and Girl. To the Hopi people, the Butterfly symbolizes the pollination of the young corn, which is so important in Hopi society. The Shalakos or Cloud People represent rain and moisture for a good harvest. Kevin sincerely believes that his choice to be an artist was an ethereal choice in expressing his inner feelings through his art. What makes him happy as an artisan is that his creations, will make those who possess his art proud as well.
Abel is a third-generation artist from Walpi Village on First Mesa, AZ. He drew and painted as a younger child and began to carve in junior high school. Abel moved to Scottsdale, AZ to receive a bachelor’s degree in culinary arts. He started back into the arts to relieve the stress of the restaurant business and has become a full-time artist in the last seven years. His family has been a big influence on his art and in particular, his great grandmother Bessie Namoki and grandmother Sandra Dewangyumpetwa. He uses a lot of their pottery designs in his paintings. By using these old family designs, he learns more about his history and culture that has been passed down from generation to generation.
Carliss is from the village of Hotevilla, located on Third Mesa on the Hopi Reservation. He has been an artist and painter for the past thirty years. He is a self-taught artist and believes that his creativity grows through trial and error. Carliss says most of his inspiration comes from his Hopi upbringing, culture, and lifeways. He first started creating katsinas for ceremonial purposes, then decided to apply his painting skills to canvas and paper. He feels that his art serves a purpose, to bring healing. He says, “We all have troubling thoughts and if someone takes and sees joy in my paintings, I believe I helped them ease their troubled thoughts, even for just a moment.”
Jamie was born and raised at the Pueblo of Zuni. He has been an artist since he was a child but decided to become a painter when he saw his brother become a successful painter. Jamie began with acrylic paint and then moved on to watercolors. Jamie says several people were instrumental in teaching him, but his grandfather taught him the most about drawing. Jamie draws inspiration for his paintings from his beliefs and culture.
Ronnie is a lifelong resident of Zuni, NM. He has been creating art for more than 40 years. He began drawing when he was 10 years old and he’s been creating art ever since. He says he was inspired to create his paintings by the beauty in Shiwi (Zuni) culture and traditions. Ronnie is a self-taught artist but he credits Alex Seowtewa and the late Duane Dishta as being his mentors and the biggest influences in his life.
Levon grew up at Zuni Pueblo. Through an enrichment program in grade school, he was given the opportunity to try his hand at drawing, pottery, and basket making. Levon was a former firefighter serving on a Hot Shot crew for 16 years, before turning back to art. He began with simple drawings and later progressed to watercolors, acrylics, and then oils. He draws inspiration from a variety of places including books, music, and new information learned.
Elroy Natachu Jr.Zuni
Elroy’s artistic journey started at a young age. He was born into a family of native craft specialists. Elroy’s grandfather Sefferino L. Eriacho Sr. was his moral and spiritual compass. He taught discipline as well as stories of Zuni and its vast history and religion. From these teachings, Elroy began working through visual media, sketches, and drawings. He now infuses traditional figures in his work and details with a modern twist. Elroy’s main subject matter of choice is that of the Zuni Kachinas. The reason being is to instill a sense of cultural preservation, in this modern age that the younger generation did not grow up as I did. I hope to help to further enforce the importance of oral tradition, and the passing on of knowledge, with the stories and teachings of how these sacred beings and entities were held in high regard by our ancestors. Through his use of visual media, Elroy seeks to bridge the past with the present.
Kandis Quam belongs to the Folded Arm People and she is a child of the Eagle clan. She comes from a family of well-known artists. Even at a young age, she knew her destiny was to continue the Quam family legacy of art. Kandis learned from watching her parents as they helped her navigate the art show world. She returned home to build a successful art business with her cousin Elroy Natachu Jr. He began to teach her how to paint and other art forms. Kandis says, “through every piece of art I do, I aim to push my art to the next caliber: infusing the traditional with a modern twist.” Kandis hopes to bring light to the importance of oral tradition, and the passing on of knowledge. The stories and teachings of how sacred beings and entities have been held in high regard by our ancestors. Through her use of visual media, Kandis seeks to bridge the past with the present and create change through beauty.