The first time I really took the time to look at Shonto Begay's work was in the 1980s when I was judging Navajo weaving at the Santa Fe Indian Market. Back in those days, and really, still today, there are not many Navajo weavings entered at the Market.
It is difficult making a living as a weaver, it takes time and there is no money coming in while the rug is on the loom. To weave and keep enough pieces to fill a booth for the once a year Indian Market, rent a booth and spend three nights in Santa Fe (not an inexpensive place to stay), is not something a weaver that makes their sole living at a loom can easily afford.
Anyway, there were some nice weavings and the ribbons we awarded were well earned. After our group of judges were finished, I wandered about the room, looking at the other entries. In the painting category there were several pieces by artists I knew and worked with. But there were two by Shonto Begay.
These were unique and captivating paintings and what I really liked about them was that they featured simple, ordinary scenes on the Navajo Reservation, but the longer you looked at them the more they captivated. While these were clearly Navajo scenes, they were much more universal. They could have been farmers in Iowa or Mexico. I remembered thinking that what Begay was doing was telling a universal story, something we could all relate to. What he was saying, in a beautiful way, was that Navajos are people, just like everyone else.
I've only met him once at Indian Market and we have never worked together, but he is one of my favorite artists. But, I've learned a lot about him and appreciate what he has brought to Native art. He shows at galleries owned by friends of mine including Medicine Man Gallery in Tucson which does a terrific job representing his work. It is always a pleasure to visit.
Shonto was born at Shonto, Arizona. His mother was a weaver and had sheep, his father was a respected medicine man. He went to college at art schools and was a National Park Ranger at Grand Teton National Park and at Navajo National monument. He gives talks about his work and his culture and often offers small free art lessons to children. He has written children's books and illustrated many other publications. His work is in the collections of most of the major museums in the country.
So, why am I writing this? Well, about a month ago, we traded a beaded bandolier bag for a beautiful Shonto Begay painting. It captures everything I said about his work earlier. It is a small oil painting depicting a pick-up truck driving across a reservation road. A simple, ordinary scene that captures the essence of a universal experience.
I really like this painting! It was painted in 2016 and is titled "Windmill". It measures 16" by 20" and we want to offer it to you for $1800.
I don't have any excuse for not getting in touch with this amazing artist after I saw his work at Indian Market. Who knows, he's about my age and we both hopefully have a few years left.
But if you want a really nice piece of his work, this is your opportunity. I promise it will be one of those paintings that will captivate and continue to grow on you!
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