Harrison was one of the Native American artists who came to prominence in the mid-decades of the 1900s. His two-dimensional style and the manner in which he depicted Navajo life and ceremonials gained him a wide following.
He was the last surviving student of Dorothy Dunn at the Santa Fe Indian School. After returning from the service, Began began his professional painting career in 1947 and painted until recently.
Begay joined with one of his fellow artists, Gerald Nailor, Sr. to form a publishing business in 1951 called Tewa Enterprises. Together they produced many silkscreen prints that were sold in the tourist business over several decades. These inexpensive prints were top quality silk screens, each done in editions of 2000. Many people traveling through the west purchased them and spread Begay's reputation as an artist.
Unfortunately, because they were so inexpensive, many were discarded over the years and today these prints are highly collectible. In addition to Begay and Nailor, they also printed images by Alan Houser.
Begay won many awards for his art and was featured in many books on Native art. He had attended college and studied architecture briefly before enlisting in the service during WWII. This was a man who went through many tough times and had a large portion of his productive career wiped out by alcoholism. He left a great legacy of art and will be remembered as a trailblazer who opened the doors for many young Native artists to follow. When he was at his best, his paintings were fabulous. When he wasn't, they were still way above most of his peers. He was a man with much talent.
Harrison Begay began his life in 1917 at a time and in a country where he rode a horse to the trading post and lived without any modern conveniences. When he died, paved roads and automobiles had long since transversed the Navajo reservation. Television and the internet had come to the reservation, sending thoughts and images around the world in milliseconds. Through it all, he created beautiful paintings and prints that were faithful to his traditional Navajo upbringing. This was a remarkable man who was a pioneer in Native American art.