Begay, Shonto

A professional artist since 1983, Shonto Begay spends his time painting and speaking to audiences of all ages. His artwork has been shown in more than 50 shows in galleries and museums including The Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian in Santa Fe, the American Indian Contemporary Arts‘ museum in San Francisco and Phoenix Art Museum.

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Shonto Gallery

Shonto Gallery was the website for the Flagstaff gallery of Shonto Begay, a Dine’ artist. Shonto Begay’s work is found in more than fifty galleries and museums, including the American Contemporary Arts Museum in San Francisco, the Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian in Santa Fe, the Phoenix Art Museum and the Museum of Northern Arizona in Flagstaff. Content is from the site’s archived pages from 2006-2009, as well as from other outside sources. For the most up to date info about Shonto Begay go to his facebook page at: His work is sold at the West of the Moon gallery in Flagstaff, AZ. or online at the or at their gallery in Tucson AZ.

Shonto Gallery

Shonto Begay

Born near Shonto, Arizona, to a Navajo medicine man and rug weaver, storyteller and artist Shonto Begay draws on his Navajo background to write and illustrate books for children and adults. He earned an AFA from the Institute of American Indian Arts and a BFA from the California College of Arts and Crafts. Begay is the author of The Mud Pony (1988), winner of the Owl Award for Illustration; Ma’ii and Cousin Horned Toad (1991); and Navajo: Visions and Voices Across the Mesa (1995) and illustrated The Magic of Spider Woman (1996), among others. He has been published in numerous magazines and newspapers, including Canyon Road Arts, Western Art Collector, Warrior’s Voice, and Arizona Daily Sun, and his art has been exhibited in solo shows across the country, including the Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian, the Utah Museum of Fine Arts, and the American Indian Contemporary Arts Museum.

Of his writing and art, Begay says, “I work to bring my own art, my own traditions, my own people, to places where they don’t know about us. … I believe in sharing that story and in finding ways to let kids express themselves the same way.” Begay travels across the country to speak to audiences about culture, creativity, and sustainability. He has worked as a National Park Service ranger.

Shonto Begay

The HeArt Box Art Gallery + Studio

Online Preview, Pre Sale | February 11th, Opens at 3pm (MST)Exhibiting | February 12th – March 27thVirtual Opening | Friday, February 12th, 5:30pm MST, Facebook Live

Dawn is a collection that showcases the rawness of creation, the birth that makes movement forward out of the darkness into the light, from winter into the early blooming of spring. When we have been stripped down, standing bare, after the loss; where do you go from there? The ignition of the fire within, from deep within our bellies. The hope in our hearts to dream again. After the fog has cleared, the sharp clarity of a sunny day. What will you birth when asked to create? What is the story your hands will tell?

Dawn is a reflective exhibition made up of five Flagstaff painters; Shonto Begay, Jill Sans, Jacques Cazaubon Seronde, Jihan Gearon and Jerrel Singer. Each artist creating their own interpretation, poetic visions portrayed on canvas.

To read more about each artist click on artist image.

The HeArt Box Art Gallery + Studio

Shonto Begay

Born in a hogan and raised on Diné land, known as the Navajo Nation, Shonto Begay began professionally writing, illustrating and painting in 1983. His work captures the striking beauties of a traditional Navajo upbringing and the harsh realities of modern reservation life.

“I was surrounded by Hozho (beauty), including the sounds of songs and healing chants accompanied with stories from elders,” Shonto says. “From a very young age, I found excitement in recreating facets of my universe in varying images.”

Shonto’s acrylic paintings are done in a series of small brush strokes that repeat like the words of a traditional Navajo blessing prayer. Images harken heartfelt childhood memories and resonate the constant struggle for balance and harmony with humankind and the Earth. His traditional life of sustainability and prayer helped him endure the brutality of the U.S. government boarding school he was forced to attend as a child away from the loving family sheep camp he was asked to forget.

“I survived boarding school partly because of my spiritual strength and retreat into my drawings. I was always drawing. ‘Arts Save Lives’ has been my mantra ever since. Some people did not survive like me. They are walking traumas of my generation,” Shonto says.

Represented in galleries and museums worldwide, he was one of 16 children. His mother is a traditional Navajo rug weaver from the Bitter Water Clan and his father was a medicine man born to the Salt Clan. Shonto grew up herding sheep in Kletha Valley, located in Shonto, Arizona.

Shonto speaks to audiences of all ages about inspiration and the importance of education and embracing cultural backgrounds.

Shonto’s art has been exhibited in solo shows at the Museum of Northern Arizona, Arizona State Museum, Utah Museum of Fine Arts, The Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian in Santa Fe, the American Indian Contemporary Arts Museum in San Francisco and Phoenix Art Museum.

Shonto attended Bureau of Indian Affairs boarding schools all over the Navajo Reservation and high school in Kayenta. He received an Associates of Fine Art degree at the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, and a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from California College of Arts and Crafts. He worked a decade in the 1980s as a National Park Service ranger at Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming and Navajo National Monument in Arizona.

Shonto Begay

2020 Legacy Recipient : Shonto Begay

Shonto Begay in his studio and the street below, Photo by Dawn Kish

The Flagstaff Arts Council Board of Directors selected Shonto Begay as a 2020 Viola Legacy Award recipient for his lifelong contribution to the arts. In selecting Begay, the board cited Begay’s generosity, national reputation, and his unwavering support of his community.

Born in a Hogan and raised on Dineh’ land, known as the Navajo Nation, Shonto Begay began professionally writing, illustrating and painting in 1983. His work captures the striking beauties of a traditional Navajo upbringing and the harsh realities of modern reservation life.

Represented in galleries and museums worldwide, he was one of 16 children. His mother is a traditional Navajo rug weaver from the Bitter Water Clan and his father was a medicine man born to the Salt Clan. Shonto grew up herding sheep in Kletha Valley, located in Shonto, Arizona. His acrylic paintings are done in a series of small brush strokes that repeat like the words of a traditional Navajo blessing prayer. Images harken heartfelt childhood memories and resonate the constant struggle for balance and harmony with humankind and the Earth.

Shonto’s traditional life of sustainability and prayer helped him endure the brutality of the U.S. government boarding school he was forced to attend as a child away from the loving family sheep camp he was asked to forget. Shonto speaks to audiences of all ages about inspiration and the importance of education and embracing cultural backgrounds. He is made his film debut as the character Cowboy in the Native-produced Monster Slayer Project–a movie about the Hero Twins, key characters in the Dineh’s origin story. A true storyteller, Shonto written and illustrated several books for Scholastic publishers and others.

Shonto’s art has been exhibited in solo shows at the Museum of Northern Arizona, Arizona State Museum, Utah Museum of Fine Arts, The Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian in Santa Fe, the American Indian Contemporary Arts Museum in San Francisco and Phoenix Art Museum. Shonto attended Bureau of Indian Affairs boarding schools all over the Navajo

Reservation and high school in Kayenta. He received an Associates of Fine Art degree at the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, and a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from California College of Arts and Crafts. He worked a decade in the 1980s as a National Park Service ranger at Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming and Navajo National Monument in Arizona. In 2017, became an Artist in Residence for the Honors Program at Northern Arizona University, where he teaches culture and painting while camping with students on the reservation.

Shonto’s Current Events :

Navajo Festival of Arts and Culture June 29th – 30th 2006 Museum of Northern Az Flagstaff, Az

Turquoise Tortoise Gallery August 4th 2006 First Friday Art Talk Hozho Center  – 431 Hwy 179  Sedona, Arizona  86336 928-282-2262

Petrified National Forest September 9th – 16th 2006 Artist in residence. Northeastern Arizona

Brandy’s Restaurant & Bakery Art on display September 4th – October 16th Art Talk & Party on September 25th ,2006 5:30 – 8pm

Take a trip Along the Navajo Trail to Shonto Begay’s 8th annual art show at Brandy’s Restaurant & Bakery this September. Begay, an award-winning Navajo painter, illustrator and writer, shares acrylic on canvas works inspired by his journeys.  “I share visions of my road thus far,” Shonto says. “I offer you the colors, movement and composition of the beautiful land that forges my spirit. These are my journeys through the potholes and avenues of life’s tests and blessings and the sacred land I call my home.” Shonto, whose paintings are represented at the Turquoise Tortoise Gallery in Sedona and the Medicine Man Gallery in Tucson, says he’s proud of being a part of Brandy’s art show tradition. “I applaud Brandy’s for being one of the first alternative places to see art in Flagstaff,” he says.

Maternal Clan: Bitter Water      Paternal Clan: Salt Clan

In Navajo, the word Shonto refers to light reflecting off water. A similar glint is in Shonto Begay’s eyes when his paintbrush meets canvas. Shonto’s writings and paintings capture a moment of Diné, the people.

Born on a Navajo reservation sheep camp to a weaver of Tonalea storm patterns and a respected medicine man, as a boy Shonto was removed from his hogan home and forced to attend a government boarding school away from his family and culture. Now he reclaims his identity through his art, balancing the harsh realities of reservation life with the amazing beauty found among its canyons and mesas. “I am very mindful that painting has saved my life many times over,” says Shonto. “It is how I’ve been able to dilute and even heal my own personal tragedies.”

Shonto’s images include truck beds full of families, hitchhikers and mesas that seem to go on forever. From first light upon the red earth to images of Manhattan, his impressionistic brushstrokes depict moments in time that pay homage to his memories or state his concerns about the environment and encroaching development.

Shonto is a volunteer with Grand Canyon Chapter of the Sierra Club, Black Mesa Trust and the Save the Peaks efforts. For more information about Native people, land and resources, visit :

Shonto’s multi-award winning work has been featured at the Museum of Northern Arizona, Heard Museum in Phoenix, The Smithsonian Institute, the American Indian Contemporary Arts Museum in San Francisco, Arizona State Museum the American Indian Community House Gallery in New York City. His mural work and pen and ink drawings of the Navajo Legend of the Hero Twins are on display at the Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian in Santa Fe.

Arizona State Museum, University of Arizona campus in Tucson

51st Annual Heard Museum Guild Indian Fair & Market Saturday and Sunday, March 7 and 8, 2009

Shonto is featured in the Arizona State Museum’s collection, “Connections Across Generations: The Avery Collection of American Indian Paintings” at the University of Arizona.

Shonto’s multi-award winning work has been featured at the Museum of Northern Arizona, Heard Museum in Phoenix, The Smithsonian Institute, the American Indian Contemporary Arts Museum in San Francisco, Arizona State Museum the American Indian Community House Gallery in New York City. His mural work and pen and ink drawings of the Navajo Legend of the Hero Twins are on display at the Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian in Santa Fe.

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“Build bridges through the arts and stories of your culture, validate and

share these visions and voices. Celebrate your personal identity through the arts.”

Shonto Begay is a painter, storyteller and author. He was also a National Park Service ranger for ten years at Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming and Navajo National Monument in Arizona. He has been a professional artist since 1983 and his art has been shown in galleries and museums across the United States including the American Indian Contemporary Art Museum in San Francisco and Phoenix Art Museum. Begay draws heavily on his Navajo culture in his art. While many have compared his paintings to Van Gogh or Seurat, he dismisses this comparison as contemporary colonialism. As Begay says about his technique, “People have been doing this broken-stroke art for centuries. Look at the aboriginal, spiritual work from Australia. I’ve been calling it a visual chant for many years because our prayers or chants are put together by syllables, and each one is quite important. [The broken-stroke technique] massages and caresses the life of the image to the surface. The whole of the image, created through many fine strokes is just like the cells in a human being. The cells, the strokes, make it more alive. Your eyes are entertained.” ()

Shonto Begay was born on February 7, 1954 on the Navajo Nation near Shonto, Arizona. He grew up on the reservation and was the fifth child of sixteen. His father was a Navajo medicine man and his mother weaved rugs and herded sheep. For elementary school Begay attended federal boarding schools on the reservation which will play an important role in his art as this wasn’t the most pleasant of situations. He received an Associates of Fine Art degree at the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe and a Bachelor of Fine Arts from the California College of Arts and Crafts. He currently lives in Flagstaff, Arizona and goes back to his home on the reservation often. For Begay, “The role of the artist has always been to create a dialogue between the painting and the viewer, to document environmental and social conditions. Though we may recoil at the scene before us, we have to look at the hard, painful stuff. My journey is not so concerned with the stoic, stereotypical images of Indian life…but more with the daily struggles of the common people, and with what connects us in that commonality.” ()

The first painting of Begay’s that I choose to examine more closely is This piece features what is characteristic of Begay’s paintings: broken brush strokes and a connection to his Navajo identity. For the Navajo trees are not inanimate objects but actually are considered relatives like Grandfathers. The broken strokes draw the observer in and give life to what others might call the lifeless – the air and tree. The colors of the landscape are those are the cool tones of the painted desert on the Navajo reservation. There seems to be some small creature in the foreground like a beaver or rat that I can’t make out exactly that is either etched into the tree lor laying on the tree. Depending on which animal this is this might be a nod to what clan Begay is a member of such as the beaver clan. Although I don’t think the Navajo has a beaver clan and I don’t think beavers would survive in the desert. Perhaps this creature is what the Grandfather tree is protecting from the harsh conditions of the desert.

Begay’s also features his mastery of broken strokes and comes once again from his Navajo identity. The sky just seems to dance to a rhythm in this painting. Begay seems to be using his painting strokes to paint a rhythm throughout the painting including in the sky and on the musician’s t-shirt. There’s also a life rhythm that happens at the edges of reservations as towns like Flagstaff, Arizona which depend on the money from Native Americans that live on the reservations around there. There is also the rhythm that could be created from guitar that the musician holds. This painting also speaks to Begay’s time traveling to boarding schools during elementary school and the life lived in two worlds that don’t always mix well: reservation and off reservation. Boarding schools for Native Americans were not a simple process where kids were shipped to boarding schools. For Native Americans kids were forced to go to board school where horrible things happened like they were beaten if they spoke their language and they were not allowed to go home. Boarding schools were created to take away the Native American’s sense of being Native. It is a true testimony to Begay’s family and his own strength that his own sense of self and identity is intact after being in the boarding schools. Begay expresses that Navajo identity throughout all his paintings and it is a way perhaps that he process the two worlds he lives in.

Begay’s journey to becoming an artist took him to embrace his own Navajo identity and the concept of animation of what others might think of objects such as trees or paints with broken strokes. As Begay says, “I paint my own truth rather than painting beautiful saguaros. I’ve always painted for me, it’s a fun way of pursuing my own vision, my own life. It was a part of my life that needed a voice. It’s therapeutic for me. It helps me define my own stories, finish up my own autobiography, so to speak. The paintings I do are a ceremony for me. A ritual. A celebration of life, of moments.” ()

I found out about Begay while living in Flagstaff, Arizona. His work spoke to what I saw around me and made me see it in new ways.

View Shonto Begay’s available paintings

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Shonto Begay’s Paintings Tell Stories of Contemporary Native American Life

Shonto Begay,Ascent of the Hero Twins,Acrylic on canvas 40″ x 24″

Shonto Begay stood in a far corner of the room, quietly watching as collectors inspected his work during the first few minutes of his exhibition opening at Medicine Man Gallery. His expression was impassive, but his eyes sharp and bright. He took it all in as though it was a new and uncertain experience, despite the fact that he is a veteran of dozens of museum and gallery shows.

When finally introduced to the first customer, the light in his eyes spread over his entire face. Now clearly reveling in the occasion, Shonto began to unwind a lively story about one of his paintings.

Listening, watching, then telling the story. This is how Shonto Begay has spent his entire life and career. A nationally known author, poet, illustrator and fine artist, Begay is a born storyteller. It’s in his blood and in his culture. He grew up listening to his father, a widely respected Navajo Medicine Man, tell the ancient stories of his people.

Some of Begay’s books and paintings recount these traditional tales. The painting, Ascent of the Hero Twins, depicts Monster Slayer and Born of Water, brothers who ascended to heaven on a feather for the purpose of defeating the Monster Gods.

In this origin story, the Diné (Navajo people) had emerged from the underground “third world” into the shimmering sunlight of the (current) “fourth world” only to be preyed upon by the Monster Gods. In Heaven, the Hero Twins were given strong weapons, and they returned to earth to defeat the monsters in battles that lasted many months.

One of Begay’s most popular books, The Magic of Spiderwoman, tells the story of how the Diné learned to weave their famous blankets.

As is true with most Navajo legends, it also is a cautionary tale about the importance of respecting the teachings of the holy people, given to the Diné long ago.

As important as the traditional Diné stories are to Begay, he also finds cultural, aesthetic and instructional value in stories of contemporary Navajo life.

Indeed, the great majority of his paintings portray everyday situations of modern life that have fallen under his scrutinizing gaze.

“I just notice all the little stories,” he says. “Each person has their own story.” He sees value and meaning in ordinary lives and in shared experiences. “I paint the supporting characters, those you see in your peripheral vision, but out of a postcard view.” He adds: “I am celebrating the normalness of people, the truth of people.”

In Jewelry 4 Sale, Begay conveys the stifling boredom of a hot, dusty ramada on a lonely reservation road.

Shonto Begay, Jewelry 4 Sale,Acrylic on canvas 12″ x 16″

The young jewelry maker can only sit and wait, hoping the next carload of tourists will stop to make a purchase. There is nothing of the romantic Indian here, just someone trying to make a living with the resources at hand.

Grandmother’s Love Cup is equally unromanticized but, at the same time, a bit sentimental and homey, giving the painting more than a tinge of irony.

Grandmother wears a traditional velveteen blouse with a couple of old necklaces, and her husband wears a Navajo-style headband and a big silver earring. Nevertheless, their kitchen and their morning ritual are typically modern and could be found and repeated almost anywhere in America.

Begay’s point is made by the cup with its big, red heart, a mass-produced object of modern commercialism: a manufactured sentiment. Despite the fact that it is utterly foreign to traditional Diné culture, it now also serves as a symbol of the deep family ties and affections of this old reservation couple.

Shonto Begay, Grandmother’s Love Cup,Acrylic on canvas 42″ x 52″

The theme of a traditional people caught in a world not entirely of their own making pervades Begay’s work. However, he does not portray Navajos as victims to be mourned or pitied.

On the contrary, he wants Native Americans to be seen as ordinary individuals living, as best they can, with their own circumstances and problems and triumphs.

“When people look at my paintings, I hope they get a more realistic view of us. We’re still thought of as something other than what we really are. We are not so different, so spiritual and earth loving, the ultimate hippies. We’re just like everybody. We’re placed in this world as caretakers, and the only difference is that we know who we are. To paraphrase Fritz Scholder, I like to think I ‘paint Indian real, not red.’”

Given the realities of life in most Native American communities, the stories Begay tells are occasionally unpleasant, even disturbing.

“The role of the artist,” he says, “has always been to create a dialogue between the painting and the viewer, to document environmental and social conditions. Though we may recoil at the scene before us, we have to look at the hard, painful stuff.

My journey is not so concerned with the stoic, stereotypical images of Indian life…but more with the daily struggles of the common people, and with what connects us in that commonality.”

In the large canvas titled Helpless, the sunlight streaming through a just-opened door reveals men and women sprawled around a cramped room, presumably sleeping off the effects of an all-night party.

The depiction is direct but nonjudgmental to the extent that the scene’s meaning is not apparent at first glance.

But as the viewer’s eye circles the canvas taking in body language and expression, a knot rises in the gut as the mind begins to comprehend. This quiet power takes another form in Moonlit Drama upon the Shoulder.

The scene is a nighttime landscape with a shimmering blue mesa and sage covered hills viewed from the side of the highway. However, the focus of the painting, far off to one side is a solitary white cross: a simple, lonely reminder of a horrific event and a personal story that ended too soon.

Shonto Begay, Moonlit Drama Upon the Shoulder,Acrylic on canvas 17.75″ x 24″

Begay never uses these implied narratives to sermonize or to shock. He only wants the viewer to reflect on whatever meaning can be found in life’s varied conditions and events.

He finds in these stories a peculiar beauty that he wants to share. “We say nizhonigoo bil iina, the beauty that you live with, the beauty that you live by, the beauty upon which you base your life. For me, beauty is anything that stirs the soul, the emotion, whether it be grief, anger, joy, or melancholia.”

Whether joyful or melancholic in subject, Begay’s paintings are consistently beautiful as aesthetic objects.

His formats and compositions are frequently unconventional, but always carefully planned.

He is especially conscious of leading the viewer’s eye across the canvas in ways that emphasize the story and give the painting movement and energy.

It is Begay’s brush technique, however, that contributes most to the aesthetic dynamism of his paintings. He uses short strokes of pure color laid up in swirling patterns.

Varying the length of the strokes lends both depth and energy to the work.

Although his technique is often compared to Van Gogh or Seurat, he claims little affinity for European styles. “People have been doing this broken-stroke art for centuries. Look at the aboriginal, spiritual work from Australia. I’ve been calling it a visual chant for many years because our prayers or chants are put together by syllables, and each one is quite important. [The broken-stroke technique] massages and caresses the life of the image to the surface. The whole of the image, created through many fine strokes is just like the cells in a human being. The cells, the strokes, make it more alive. Your eyes are entertained.”

The vibrancy of Begay’s brushwork is amplified by a brilliant palette that contrasts cool blues and violets with warm oranges, reds and purples. The juxtaposition of these tiny bursts of color give the paintings a shimmering effect, almost as if the paint was moving on the canvas.

Shonto Begay, Rhythms from the Edge of the Rez,Acrylic on canvas 40″ x 44″

After more than 20 years spent refining his signature style, Begay has earned a national reputation and a large following of collectors.

Nevertheless, his career has always been more about self-awareness than critical recognition. “I paint images and subject matters to bring about closures in my own life’s experiences that left me a bit bewildered. Art is a way of life, just as breathing and eating and loving is necessary to nurture the soul. For me to talk about my art is a conversation of the ethereal, like trying to hold down the wind with a butterfly net. Each piece begins with a feeling, a yearning to bring into the light aspects of the psyche that need my attention. I believe that in the role of a painter, I face down my fears and embrace my passion fully there before a blank canvas. Coax into my world a little bit more order and peace. We have a journey to make, dust must be raised and pain endured. My visions are shared visions.”

Stories that are both highly personal and universally recognized; this is the essence of Begay’s art.

Though we are all individuals with unique personal histories, Begay believes that we all “walk the same road.” Paradoxically, we can connect to other people on that road only by sharing our own visions. “My message is simple,” he says. “Honor. Imagine. Create. Build bridges through the arts and stories of your culture. Validate and share these visions and voices.”

Shonto Begay is the author and illustrator of three books of stories and poems for children and adults, and has illustrated nine other books.

His paintings have been shown in numerous gallery and museum exhibitions around the country. Born in 1954 on the Navajo Nation near Shonto, AZ, he now divides his time between residences in Flagstaff, AZ and his home ground on the Reservation. An exhibition of Begay’s paintings opens at Medicine Man Gallery in Santa Fe on August 17, 2007.

Rocking the Canyon; Celebrating the future

Posted by Shonto Begay on May 25, 2017 in Shonto BegayComments Off on Rocking the Canyon; Celebrating the future

“I am a member of the Bitter Water Clan, born for the Salt, Many Goats, my maternal grandfather and Tsi’najinni’, my paternal grandfather.” This is how we begin a conversation. Soon the canyon walls will be echoing the sounds of revelry as we commence the ninth annual Shonto Rock the Canyon event in the canyon of my Arizona community of Shonto. This will be taking place on June 3 of this year (the first Saturday in June, annually). Music, food, and art spaces alongside the best social event where I get to mingle with community members and…

The boy within; Healing journey in dreams

Posted by Shonto Begay on Apr 13, 2017 in Shonto BegayComments Off on The boy within; Healing journey in dreams

I dreamt again of a young boy cradled in the wings of angels, while ancestors moved gently into the light. In my recent ceremony of sound healing, I saw the boy again in my trance. It was a beautiful moment, a healing moment. As I went deeper into calmness, I heard the hum of the universe. It is this boy I traveled with in many dreams. Three-and-half years of moving through troubled terrain and situations. I stepped in and out of relationships always mindful of the child’s care. It is a sacred reality, these dreams. Later in a trance dream a…

My school visits; Reclaiming time for art

Posted by Shonto Begay on Feb 23, 2017 in Shonto BegayComments Off on My school visits; Reclaiming time for art

Recently, I did a school visit with Ms. Julia’s second grade class in Cornville. As with most school visits, it was a treat and inspiring to see them. I drove through Oak Creek Canyon, through Sedona, and down into the expansive Verde Valley. Along the way, I pulled off the road a couple times to sit atop my camper shell and draw the beauty of the space. In this manner, I prepared myself for the class of eager young artists. Vehicles blew by as I sat deep in meditation, coaxing out the red rocks onto the sketchbook. I had brought my pad of…

Oceti Sakowin; A day of protecting and thanking water

Posted by Shonto Begay on Dec 8, 2016 in Shonto BegayComments Off on Oceti Sakowin; A day of protecting and thanking water

This is part two, continued from last week’s issue of Flagstaff Live.… The wind blew all through the cold night. The protective covering I rigged over our shared tent flapped frozen against the outside. I was too tired to even be bothered by it at all. I laid there hoping I didn’t have to go empty my bladder soon. Fortunately, the sleeping bag was designed for this climate. I hoped my tent partner, Jasmine, was warm enough as I covered her gently in an extra blanket. A person I have never met before from Brooklyn was sharing her tent….

Oceti Sakowin; Water Is Life

Posted by Shonto Begay on Dec 1, 2016 in Shonto BegayComments Off on Oceti Sakowin; Water Is Life

I went up to Standing Rock Reservation in Cannonball, N.D., to join in the alliance of Water Protectors, one more among thousands. We gathered here to protect the Missouri River from the Army Corps of Engineers, putting water in jeopardy for all downriver. The Dakota Access Pipeline is the “monster” whom we are here to defeat in peace. To speak for the voice silenced, the Standing Rock Lakota. I feel a great urgency to share in this experience and try to bring home the magnitude of our collective struggle. We arrived on a cold and deceptively…

Mosi’; Sheep camp guardian of spirits

Posted by Shonto Begay on Oct 20, 2016 in Shonto BegayComments Off on Mosi’; Sheep camp guardian of spirits

For days, Old Lady Smallcanyon complained of weakness. She had seen 84 winters without an illness. She had walked miles after her flock of sheep. She said her body ached and vision blurred. Medicine men were called upon and they came and went. “She has Lightning illness,” one proclaimed. Another diagnosed a Skinwalker witch infection. Finally, it was determined that it was old age and nothing more. She had lived long and seen much. There was nothing more to be done and the shamans shuffled away helpless. “Prepare for her a death bed away from…

Slipping 1995; Kicking and gouging in the mud, the blood, and the beer

Posted by Shonto Begay on Sep 8, 2016 in Shonto BegayComments Off on Slipping 1995; Kicking and gouging in the mud, the blood, and the beer

Like drunkards we are, we staggered along in the rain-soaked clay. The rain continued steadily on, mocking our slow progress toward our goal: the teacher’s housing project in the distance. Alcohol and rain haze made it difficult to judge space and time. We slipped simultaneously and fell side-by-side in the mud; this was the fifth or sixth time. We struggled to our feet, our glasses smeared with clay, our hair matted with mud and my white shirt the color of Kayenta gray. Slightly stupid, we half dragged each other across another 100 yards….

N’daa; Season of the Healing Spirit

Posted by Shonto Begay on Jul 28, 2016 in Shonto BegayComments Off on N’daa; Season of the Healing Spirit

In the Diné world, this is the season of ceremonies, the time when the clans come together to heal collectively through summer N’daa ceremonies. N’daa, also called Enemy Way Ceremonies, is performed exclusively in the warmer seasons. Their announcement marks the first moaning of early summer thunder and the first lightning to the very first chill of fall. In this span of time, I remember it as being a social time for us kids and our elders. I remember excitement in sheep camps as the elders made plans to attend the upcoming healing ceremony…

The cradle of my youth; Speaking its language

Posted by Shonto Begay on Jun 16, 2016 in Shonto BegayComments Off on The cradle of my youth; Speaking its language

    I go home often, out into the heart of the Diné country, out to the Shonto area to be specific. This is the land that carved features in my character. This land that gave to me lessons on life and how one should speak with her. Recently, I took my love to meet her as well. It is an amazing thing to experience the newness of this land through another’s innocent eyes. The beauty of the land is especially accentuated when I invite guests into my part of the land and life. Such invites, at times, elicit magical effects on people,…

A wedding basket revisited; Weaving a tight union

Posted by Shonto Begay on May 5, 2016 in Shonto BegayComments Off on A wedding basket revisited; Weaving a tight union

I will be attending a wedding soon back East as a guest—something I know a few things about. It is always a journey of hope, promises and pitfalls. Rather than dwelling on the latter, let me just say that I am honored to be among the throngs of well-wishers and metaphorical breezes that launch this ship of dreams. I have attended many weddings out here in the West. I have even officiated a couple of them, which I am happy to say are still intact. It’s always exhausting to see how much love and labor goes into making one happen. I have been in…

Hoghaan Insomniac; Wrestling with imagined fear

Posted by Shonto Begay on Mar 31, 2016 in Shonto BegayComments Off on Hoghaan Insomniac; Wrestling with imagined fear

I am nine years old. I am lying in our Hoghaan awake in the middle of the night. To my left and right my brothers and cousins are sleeping soundly beneath the blankets, dreaming dreams sheepskin bedding brings. I am awake to the full rhythmic snoring and occasional cough and sleep mumbles. I am trying to fall back asleep. My mind is full of terror and other compositions of my young life. The moonlight pouring through the smoke hole washes the interior of our hoghaan in darker shadows, forcing all things metallic to shine on the periphery of…

No ribbons required; Pageantry of colors, arts awards and beyond

Posted by Shonto Begay on Feb 25, 2016 in Shonto BegayComments Off on No ribbons required; Pageantry of colors, arts awards and beyond

    The Viola Awards celebration is just around the corner and the excitement in the arts community here in Flagstaff and beyond is almost tangible. The nominations are out; I am sure many fingers are crossed. I wish all the nominees much luck and that the eyes of the judging panels are kind, and not as divisive as the Academy Awards. I believe I see one artist of color in the running: My cousin, David Dawangumptewa. I wish him much success. David’s quality and perseverance, along with his love of vision and culture, has earned him…

Uncharted water; Boldly into the unknown (continued)

Posted by Shonto Begay on Jan 21, 2016 in Shonto BegayComments Off on Uncharted water; Boldly into the unknown (continued)

As I peered past the hard rain against my windshield, I saw multiple shades of gray composing my new world in a wiggly abstract. The Sierra disappeared from my rearview mirror and was replaced by beacons of headlights urging me forth. Welcome to the Golden State for this dusty Rez boy. I was definitely in uncharted water and there was no turning back. The award and acceptance letter from the art college in my glove compartment confirmed that. This was just another stage of life’s journey and transitions. That gave me a little semblance of…

Boldly into the unknown; On the wild road less traveled

Posted by Shonto Begay on Dec 17, 2015 in Shonto BegayComments Off on Boldly into the unknown; On the wild road less traveled

It has been many years since I broke through the beauty that is the rainbow that surrounds our Dineh’ homeland. I exited innocence of all that I knew and loved, which sustained me, but the hunger of new places, people and experiences is too powerful a drive to let pass. Each time I have embraced newness, it was not without some cultural shock. Much of what is “out there” is dangerously close to taboo and must be negotiated with great care. You see, I had never lived in a city or engaged with its content up to that time I left my sheep camp….

Marking seasons; A view from the New Year

Posted by Shonto Begay on Nov 12, 2015 in Shonto BegayComments Off on Marking seasons; A view from the New Year

As late summer’s warmth relents to the early chills of autumn, I am reminded of how these changes affected my observation from the threshold of my mother’s hearth and home. From a very young age, when I first learned of the cycle of seasons, I learned to gauge those stages in the changes of the Earth’s tone. Before and aside from the intrusion of U.S. government schools, it was the subtle signs I witnessed: the lowering heads of sunflowers as if in sadness; the cries of migratory birds far above my sheep trails as they traveled south; the…

Hero Twins; On the edge of Creation

Posted by Shonto Begay on Oct 8, 2015 in Shonto BegayComments Off on Hero Twins; On the edge of Creation

As the season changes in the waning year, I hear once again the voice of my elder as the story of the great legends of Creation is retold. When our animal family begin their slumber for the winter, it is deemed safe to settle around the hearth of the hogan to embark upon this journey, again. To the blazing wood fire of winter’s night, to the aroma of Navajo Tea and cedar smudging, we await on the first lines of our origin. “Aal,kiida’, Haaji’na’b’daa de’.”

As the season changes in the waning year, I hear once again the voice of my elder as the story of the great legends of Creation is retold. When our animal family begin their slumber for the winter, it is deemed safe to settle around the hearth of the hogan to embark upon this journey, again. To the blazing wood fire of winter’s night, to the aroma of Navajo Tea and cedar smudging, we await on the first lines of our origin. “Aal,kiida’, Haaji’na’b’daa de’.”

Letting the mysteries be; A journey with many unknowns

Posted by Shonto Begay on Sep 3, 2015 in Shonto BegayComments Off on Letting the mysteries be; A journey with many unknowns

There are many mysteries I grew up with that remain a mystery. I welcome that. As in the new world I am thrust into, the mysteries of technologies and beliefs in guidance from different gods. I welcome that. I do not know how cell phones and computers work from such a small format. Halloween and Santa Claus: mysteries. I do not know much of what is in nature, such as what keeps millions of tons of moisture above our heads in these fantastic summer thunderheads. How nature works and all that maintains life has always been explained to me through the creation stories and through the voices, songs and the antics of animal kin. My forebears passed those on as tenets of living life as Dineh’.

There are many mysteries I grew up with that remain a mystery. I welcome that. As in the new world I am thrust into, the mysteries of technologies and beliefs in guidance from different gods. I welcome that. I do not know how cell phones and computers work from such a small format. Halloween and Santa Claus: mysteries. I do not know much of what is in nature, such as what keeps millions of tons of moisture above our heads in these fantastic summer thunderheads. How nature works and all that maintains life has always been explained to me through the creation stories and through the voices, songs and the antics of animal kin. My forebears passed those on as tenets of living life as Dineh’.

Exiting innocence; My summer roads, 1970

Posted by Shonto Begay on Jul 30, 2015 in Shonto BegayComments Off on Exiting innocence; My summer roads, 1970

  At the age of 15 I broke through the horizon of the familiar. From a remote sheep camp, with $5 in my pocket, I left home. I remember that day as I packed a few pieces of clothing and exited innocence. I offered a quick farewell to my family; leaving them thinking I was just going overnight at some distant relative’s place. A thick sheep camp tortilla and cooked meat with a chunk of government cheese (the best and tastiest kind) was my provision in a knapsack. I left home that hot day with not a single cloud in the thick blue sky….

Walking dark; Another midsummer night’s dream

Posted by Shonto Begay on Jun 25, 2015 in Shonto BegayComments Off on Walking dark; Another midsummer night’s dream

    That late evening when the shadows blended thick I walked away from the festivity of lights and laughter into the night. I stepped beyond the perimeter of flashing lights and carnival barkers. Before me I see only the sweltering evening heat of the night. It held another population as I negotiated alleys. I walked deeper into the unlit city accented only by an occasional glow of cigarettes and low voices. I stumbled once or twice upon a sleeping animal, startling them into motion. I stepped over sleeping figures. I walked into a…

Rock the Canyon; Giving back to the community

Posted by Shonto Begay on May 21, 2015 in Shonto BegayComments Off on Rock the Canyon; Giving back to the community

    As late spring rolls out its verdant carpet for summer’s entrance, I will once again step into its promise of the season’s fullness and festivities. This is the promise I yearned for as a child. It is called Shii’ in Navajo (Summer)—The Time When Late Snow Showers and Thunderstorms Mingle. The late storm we call Aye’he ne’dinni’yoodi (Chasing Away the In-laws)—When the Young Suitor Runs Home to the Comfort of His Own Mother’s Hoghaan. It is followed by carpets of bright and cheery wildflowers that will only wither with the…

Moon of the Earth’s stirring; Renewal season

Posted by Shonto Begay on Apr 17, 2015 in Shonto BegayComments Off on Moon of the Earth’s stirring; Renewal season

This was my third Passover Seder/Shabbat observance. This year, I accompanied my girlfriend Tamar and my adopted son Daniel to this wonderful celebration of the shedding of the bondage of darkness in any form. It was the Navajo Moon of the Earth’s stirring. The moon was early full and all the hills, free of lights, showed its muted shine. The hills of the San Francisco Bay glittered and winked in allure. It was a fine night like many I’ve known where healing began. I came to be present and not just to eat. Many years ago, in Greenwich…

Drawing life; Delineating my world

Posted by Shonto Begay on Mar 12, 2015 in Shonto BegayComments Off on Drawing life; Delineating my world

“Drawing is more than a tool for rendering and capturing likeness. It is a language, with its own syntax, grammar, and urgency. Learning to draw is about learning to see. In this way; it is a metaphor for all art activity. Whatever its form, drawing transforms perception and thought into image and teaches us how to think with our eyes.” — Kit White, from 101 Things to Learn in Art School The very first stirrings of “thinking with my eyes” as a means to create my own world, filled with subjects and symbols of my unconventional and safe…

South to Cantu Cove; Journey in the direction of turquoise

Posted by Shonto Begay on Feb 5, 2015 in Shonto BegayComments Off on South to Cantu Cove; Journey in the direction of turquoise

The headlights revealed only more sand ahead of us as we negotiated our way down the Mexican dirt road. As the passenger, my feet worked the phantom pedals. Tamar and I were both strangers here and we had no way of contacting our hosts somewhere there on the beach of the Sea of Cortez. The street we were on had no signs. It abruptly turned to dirt and became uneven. We continued the perilous drive through the sand and rock outcroppings. The Mazda3 under Tamar’s guidance and my indigenous GPS tracked carefully; we swallowed our doubts and…

The mentor of youth; My brother’s pain

Posted by Shonto Begay on Jan 1, 2015 in Shonto BegayComments Off on The mentor of youth; My brother’s pain

I had a brother once that I looked up to, to no end. I had a brother once that loved me through expressions of the face and words, and yet still he beat me up when I transgressed in my young boyhood as I learned to be a man. Nelson was two years older than me and my closest sibling. He was a charismatic child, and at an early age even the animals gravitated to his charms. He was my brother. I loved him. He exuded what I wanted to be, but could never achieve. I felt he was Charles Atlas, Jim Shoulder and Marlon Brando all in one. The tales of…

Someone saved my life; Being each others’ angels

Posted by Shonto Begay on Nov 27, 2014 in Shonto BegayComments Off on Someone saved my life; Being each others’ angels

As we enter another season of feasting, gift giving and love, I want to talk about what that is all about for me. I was always under an impression that a great prophet was born in the season and through him we are promised salvation. It is about saving lives and opening up heart and hearth. Our collective story of our vulnerability and our saviors come together in our conversation. It is not about the Gods of our creation that I am speaking of here. The men and women who do these deeds are just humans who happen to be in the right place at…

State of dreams; The other life

Posted by Shonto Begay on Nov 14, 2014 in Shonto BegayComments Off on State of dreams; The other life

I do dream my dreams dreaming me, where my reality conscience is folded onto itself. We all do. It’s the world we populate nearly half of our living and breathing state. A plane of conscience we give little credence to. A powerful place and space we all know too well. I visit that dimension each night where all my angst and triumph resides. Where I either find sanctuary or encounter my fears. It’s where I believe I complete motions, act on a promise or simply dismember the rules of nature. I see coming collisions of lives around the bend of…

On the edge of the ages; Plein air on the rim

Posted by Shonto Begay on Sep 18, 2014 in Shonto BegayComments Off on On the edge of the ages; Plein air on the rim

Once again, I am in the company of wonderfully talented landscape painters. I will spend this week here at the rim of the Grand Canyon trying to capture and interpret, in my own way, the grandness of the Canyon. As one of 20-some painters from all over the country, I am thrilled to be here among this inspirational throng, among peers, fellow visionaries and, of course, good friends. This will be my third time participating in this event. En plein air, a French expression, means “In the open air.” A painting done on the spot on the land. All…

My three muses

Posted by Shonto Begay on Aug 20, 2014 in Shonto BegayComments Off on My three muses

In many of my past writing journeys here, I speak much of growing up Dineh’—about the uniqueness of the culture I come from—about the sacredness of ceremonies and the brutality of the government boarding schools. I speak of life and living within the horizon that is my universe. I want to speak more on the beauty and the magic that makes my own life as an artist. The wonders that began within my hogan, my landscape, my passion of family. I want to speak on my three wonderful daughters—my ultimate muses. I want to know I carry that sense…

The Heart Vase; Why the tree has seven hearts

Posted by Shonto Begay on Jun 19, 2014 in Shonto BegayComments Off on The Heart Vase; Why the tree has seven hearts

Some months ago when the preparation for my new exhibition at the Museum of Northern Arizona was beginning, my friend and brother of a lighter shade, glassblower George Averbeck, approached me with the idea of collaborating on a piece for the museum gala auction. In our continuing support for this fine institution, I readily agreed. George has shown his support through various donations and verbal testaments, and so have I. It also was a real testament in the knowledge that if we all work together to create a greater beauty, then we all…

Map of My Heart; A view from above the storm clouds

Posted by Shonto Begay on May 16, 2014 in Shonto BegayComments Off on Map of My Heart; A view from above the storm clouds

Once again, I am honored with a full show at the Museum of Northern Arizona. The show begins with a gala with all the trimmings on Summer Solstice. It is a place all artists sharing this universal language wish to be. I am humbled by this distinction and I know it is my stories of being an integral part of my land that brings me here. I gladly share these for my own spiritual growth as well as keeping my identity strong with the land I speak for in the name of Art. I titled the show Map of My Heart because that is what it attempts to…

Pieces of April; My spring prayer

Posted by Shonto Begay on Apr 10, 2014 in Shonto BegayComments Off on Pieces of April; My spring prayer

Aaah, the rites of Spring! Yaa’ Daa’n. This is the time of year when smiling hearts blossom everywhere it seems. I used to see it in the early thunderheads looming high above the parched grounds of the government boarding school compound. There seemed to be newness even in the gray geometry we called home away from our sheep camp homes. Like the towering promise of moisture far above, my spirit would rise out of the pit, because summer break was not too far ahead. In this I saw the promise of the victory of surviving another school year. I…

Screen cowboys; Dreams from an aged saddle

Posted by Shonto Begay on Mar 6, 2014 in Shonto BegayComments Off on Screen cowboys; Dreams from an aged saddle

They rode hard with intensity upon their Palomino steed. They sat in their saddles with confidence, synchronized as they moved through brushes and deadfalls. The Horse and his Cowboy. They were overwhelming there up on the movie screen. Their hats disturbed not in the slightest by the wind they often rode into. They squinted hard and narrow into the storm and at their adversaries. Their six-guns blazed easily from their gloved hands. I saw bad men falling by the wayside as our screen Cowboy again evened the scale of Justice. The dusty and…

Trees of knowledge; Tending roots through art

Posted by Shonto Begay on Jan 30, 2014 in Shonto BegayComments Off on Trees of knowledge; Tending roots through art

“… aa’de’h, ha ho dil ya, bi’ daa de. Tsin, t’iis, noseel,i’ be’ ya’ bi’ne’ es tsi jinni’. Da’ hoodi dsi, da hodi’ zhoosh go’ da hode’ knii’de’e’ daa’ ho,l dziil’ jinni.” “… on the cusp of creation, trees, and all that takes root ties down the undulating restlessness of the Mother. stillness with prayers, that is the wisdom and strength of grandparents …” – Moses T. Yazzie Sr. (1981) It begins with the wrist, then the elbow, the shoulder and eventually the whole body. These are the movements; the dance of creation to the blank space of the…

Before Santa Claus; Recollections of the gifts of winter

Posted by Shonto Begay on Dec 26, 2013 in Shonto BegayComments Off on Before Santa Claus; Recollections of the gifts of winter

Celebrations of the season began way before Christmas as I know it now. Before the lighted trees, gifts and Santa Claus. There were times remembered in events and emotions. There was a sense of holiness that comes with the hibernations of animals and the loss of warmth, as the world became more surreal suspended farther from the Sun. The short days and long story-filled nights in low voices gave a reason to go inward to seek out those gems hibernating within us. The season when we open those bundles of carefully wrapped songs and stories of…

Through fresh eyes; Renewing the Map of my Heart

Posted by Shonto Begay on Nov 14, 2013 in Shonto BegayComments Off on Through fresh eyes; Renewing the Map of my Heart

Sap oozes from a sweet vanilla pine. Its scent rides the morning current. Nectar of hummingbird plant, (Da’yii t,ii Daa’) still on my tongue and cliff roses fragrance in my senses. We ride the morning roads upon this land of many incredible moods, many fascinating plays of light and the space. It has its own vocabulary. The land of my ancestors once spoke its esoteric language. Through new sets of eyes, with new enthusiasm, I reset and replay my intense appreciation of its beauty. Besides its obvious landmarks, it is the supporting casts of…

A day in the life of a B.I.A. child; Government school revisited from the late 1960s

Posted by Shonto Begay on Oct 17, 2013 in Shonto BegayComments Off on A day in the life of a B.I.A. child; Government school revisited from the late 1960s

The morning alarm goes off early, blaring harshly as we stumble out of our bunk beds at the boarding school. Another morning. The overseer swaggers in with his switch tapping his calves. He yells down the hallway echoing the unkind sound of the bell. We line up in our pajamas for inspection and a head count; 60 young boys in a wing of the massive cinderblock dormitory. We line up to throw cold water on our faces, after which we again line up to head out into the predawn chill. In our government-issued Converse, we stretch, push, pull and hop…

Baa’ ol taa ,a’; Key to my new world knowledge

Posted by Shonto Begay on Sep 12, 2013 in Shonto BegayComments Off on Baa’ ol taa ,a’; Key to my new world knowledge

It is often said that it takes a village to raise a child. I know that it takes an army of teachers to make that child a productive and giving member of society. I am such a child still. I can never say enough of my traditional Dineh elders who taught me before I stepped into a classroom. The elders still hold that position in our lives as we also take on that helm ourselves. As a Baby Boomer on the Rez I revisit the memory of that special group of people who expanded my horizons in many classrooms. As school resumes for another year I am…

How did I get here? You can get there from here

Posted by Shonto Begay on Aug 8, 2013 in Shonto BegayComments Off on How did I get here? You can get there from here

“How did you get to where you are now, and How can I get there?” I am often posed this question from young artists. Some days I do look about me and pose the same question. It seems like it was not that long ago that I was listening intently for sheep bells and nestled inside big sagebrushes with comic books. It seems only days ago I felt the hot wind on my back as I stuck my thumb out again in search of something. Yes, I need to revisit that question for myself also. It has been a journey marked by much obstacles and opportunities. It is a…

The project of slaying monsters; Tapping into our private messiah

Posted by Shonto Begay on Jul 4, 2013 in Shonto BegayComments Off on The project of slaying monsters; Tapping into our private messiah

In the great story of Navajo Creation, the Hero twins are a constant presence of adventure in warring against the Monsters of the Fourth World. It is through the conquest of this world, this dimension, that we are allowed peace and prosperity in the present world. The “people” were forced to move from one world level to another for their own misdeeds and sacrilege. In the First World, as insect beings, in the darkened and frozen world where little survives, they moved. In the Second World as small mammal beings, such as birds and lizards,…

Hitchhikers on life’s journey; Picking up stories of the road

Posted by Shonto Begay on May 30, 2013 in Shonto BegayComments Off on Hitchhikers on life’s journey; Picking up stories of the road

These days I pick up a hitchhiker alongside the roadways of the Navajo Rez. I find that familiar and safe as a former traveler of such. The onset of the spring in all its glory brings to mind such longings. Out there was another world awaiting. The deep turquoise sky, a background of towering cumulous clouds promising rain and more. Freedom was my horizon, untethered and unexpected. These days I pick up people I know as well as strangers. Stories and laughter shared is compensation in kind for the ride. “Yaa ateeh, Hxaa de’ , Yin aal’?”…

Highway memories; Going west again … and again

Posted by Shonto Begay on Apr 25, 2013 in Shonto BegayComments Off on Highway memories; Going west again … and again

I have traveled this road many times. Too many to recount. I measure them by my adventures and misadventures upon this stretch of life line. The route is from the foot of the Sacred Mountain of the West to the California coast. I am once again riding the rhythms of the road west into the San Francisco Bay. I have no flower in my hair, just the West Coast wind. I am musing on this magical passage where angels and ghosts weave themselves into the tapestry of these journeys. The fading signs and dilapidated structures of the Mojave Desert give…

Dreamscape with hawk; Journey in dreams/between realities

Posted by Shonto Begay on Mar 21, 2013 in Shonto BegayComments Off on Dreamscape with hawk; Journey in dreams/between realities

In my life creating art, I am asked where my inspirations and images come from. My world of unconventional reality. Much of it does come from dreams dreamt at night. Dreams I can still recall from decades ago. Dreamscapes I walked among and participated in. Dreams that are coming to reality now. On canvas and in our shared reality. Dreams are the drivers of my creations. A constant of questionings. What is real for me? Dream # 42, March, 1986… “On the road to somewhere. Somewhere my heart aches to be. The sun glared brilliantly off my…

February storm; Hearts blowing in the wind

Posted by Shonto Begay on Feb 14, 2013 in Shonto BegayComments Off on February storm; Hearts blowing in the wind

Our classroom was cramped; tiny and not designed for 30 students. It actually was an apartment for the overseer attached to the girls’ dormitory. We were the overflow at another government boarding school that ran out of space for us. While the new school was being constructed at Shonto for us, we were guests at Leupp School. That was a hard year. This was 1962. I spent my second grade in the girls’ dormitory and called it a classroom. At a long table we worked diligently and quietly, an occasional sniffling and rustlings of paper was the…

Ha goneii” Shi’Ke’ii; Goodbyes in the closing year

Posted by Shonto Begay on Dec 6, 2012 in Shonto BegayComments Off on Ha goneii” Shi’Ke’ii; Goodbyes in the closing year

In these waning days of 2012, we have lost more than a few people who have touched us all collectively in the entertainment, political and sports worlds. With that consciousness, the past couple of months also found me saying goodbye to several close relatives as they journeyed into the Spirit world. Sadly, it is an all-too-common event these days, especially on the rez it seems. It is the only time relationships and community come together bonded by tears and a sense of mortality. Unexpectedly, I lost my cousin in early November to alcohol…

Tipping my hat to mystery; The odyssey of our headwear

Posted by Shonto Begay on Nov 8, 2012 in Shonto BegayComments Off on Tipping my hat to mystery; The odyssey of our headwear

The wind, in the form of a dust devil, took my hat many years ago. I was 5 years old. I stepped out into the calm and warming day crowned by my new straw cowboy hat. I beamed beneath its brims as I showed it off to the daily gods. The mysteries. It took many days of piñon picking covered in tree pitch and aching knees to afford that fine hat from the local trading post. The gods must have felt a tinge of jealousy. The calmness of the day erupted into a moving chaos and tumult of dust and debris. “Yii wo’ de’ Yii wo’ de’, naa ko ol, dissi’…

Legacy of brutality; Surviving bullies and reclaiming a life

Posted by Shonto Begay on Sep 27, 2012 in Shonto BegayComments Off on Legacy of brutality; Surviving bullies and reclaiming a life

As another season of harvest and preparation for colder weather begins, my mind cannot help but wander back to the days of innocence lost, courtesy of my Bureau of Indian Affairs boarding school experience. School resumed for another year and with it came the pained expectation of family separations and abuses at the hands of the B.I.A. officials and my peers. This is suppose to be a happy and promised season of shedding of the old, yet the stories of those who attended these institutions are all the same, at least up to the late…

Rendezvous with amigos; Musings on the edge of the dusty world, 1974

Posted by Shonto Begay on Aug 23, 2012 in Shonto BegayComments Off on Rendezvous with amigos; Musings on the edge of the dusty world, 1974

A colorfully dressed young cowboy with a slight limp shuffled past me. I stood with one hand on the railings of the rodeo corral. I had come to see a friend I haven’t seen since my boarding school days. Seven years? The drone of the announcer’s amplified voice wore on: “Now out of chute four, we have a cowboy from Red Lake, Arizona, ‘Ba ahii da’ had’. Clap for this young cowboy … and wish him luck.” The sole of my boot had worn thin and the sandy heat penetrated it. I should have worn more socks. The heat spared none that July day—the sheep…

The father I remember; Our father who art in heaven …

Posted by Shonto Begay on Jun 21, 2012 in Shonto BegayComments Off on The father I remember; Our father who art in heaven …

Sunday past was Father’s Day, a day set aside to honor the adult man in our lives—the constant source of strength and wrath. Our fathers. Growing up on the Dineh’ land of the 1960s, I do not recall any celebration for these ties. Summer set in and the dry and dusty days multiplied as my father’s voice echoed throughout the sheep camp. He sang loudly as he worked the timbers for the new hogans, as he hauled water in 50-gallon drums to water the fledgling cornfield and us alongside him. I heard his voice in the late night, with healing chants…

Moon of the earth’s stirring; Planting thoughts on spring

Posted by Shonto Begay on May 10, 2012 in Shonto BegayComments Off on Moon of the earth’s stirring; Planting thoughts on spring

Gazing across the vast and dusty Klethla Valley, my young eyes saw the boundaries of my world where the looming Black Mesa meets the sky, blue and eternal. The last stubborn remnant of snow patches hid away beneath the thick junipers. The sun traveled ever so slightly back towards the north; warming days reminded us that planting time was upon us soon. I saw and participated in these changes of seasons in our exodus from one sheep camp to another. It was always an exciting time. Chickens and cats were caught and bagged for the trip across the…

The view I have from here; A prayer for the desecrators

Posted by Shonto Begay on Mar 15, 2012 in Shonto BegayComments Off on The view I have from here; A prayer for the desecrators

I have a view from here, “y’aa.” What a view. My three sisters, they shine in the distance. “Sis na Jinni’” (Mt. Blanco to the east), “So Dzil’ (Mt. Taylor to the south), “Di be’ N’tsaa” (Hesperus peak to the north). My view has clouds today, like cataracts outside of my eyes. Like clouds bearing no rain. It is hard to hold onto ice, onto “Ke’sh je’” songs. With the dimming of the light, there upon my blanket is the fabric once woven in the undisturbed pattern of virgin green, once channeling petitions through the grooves of my folds. Now…

Visions within bound; Painting with consciousness

Posted by Shonto Begay on Mar 1, 2012 in Shonto BegayComments Off on Visions within bound; Painting with consciousness

At the young age of 8, I sat in awe as my elders hunched over a smooth bed of sand as the holy deities once again were given form. There on the hogan floor, to the low drone of an ancient chant, deft fingers gnarled by years of labor, drew fine lines of colored sand from their fingertips. As the son of a very important medicine man, I knew the significance of these images as a recreation of the universal healing patterns. They dazzled my youthful eyes and carried my spirit aloft. These were very sacred undertakings I sat witness to time and…

Community Clan; Flag’s original jovial troubadour

Posted by Shonto Begay on Feb 2, 2012 in Shonto BegayComments Off on Community Clan; Flag’s original jovial troubadour

I am sitting across the booth from Tony Norris at Brandy’s restaurant. It is still early for breakfast, but late enough so we can talk without disturbing the patrons. Except for the clinkings of dishes and utensils, it is a good place for our hushed conversation. This is new for me. Usually I am the one being interviewed. This is also Tony’s brainstorm. He says that our audience knows our words and the pictures we paint, but they need to know who we are. So the idea of picking each other’s brains to expose our journey thus far, was given…

Redeeming Santa; My First BIA Boarding School Christmas

Posted by Shonto Begay on Dec 22, 2011 in Shonto BegayComments Off on Redeeming Santa; My First BIA Boarding School Christmas

“Silent night, holy night, all is calm, all is bright …” The chorus rang off the canyon walls of my childhood at this time of the year. Beaming, hopeful and confused brown little faces sang heartily into the night so many years ago. There in the sandstone buildings, sitting on our knees, we were told about the reason for the season. Beneath an old grove of massive Fremont cottonwood, gifting us with snow on outstretched limbs, all seemed holy. Yes it did. There was a holy child discovered in a manger. All the universe held its breath, for…

Shelly in the spring of 1976; Musing from the breeze of northern New Mexico

Posted by Shonto Begay on Nov 17, 2011 in Shonto BegayComments Off on Shelly in the spring of 1976; Musing from the breeze of northern New Mexico

“April gave us springtime, and the promise of the flowers … We knew no time for sadness, that’s the road we each had crossed. We were living a time meant for us, and even when it would rain, we would laugh it off. I’ve got pieces of April, I keep them in a memory bouquet. I’ve got pieces of April, it’s a morning in May.” –Dave Loggins’ “Pieces of April,” performed by Three Dog Night   Lithe and beautiful, she attracted attentions of confident young men. I was such a young man. In those wonderful days of bellbottoms and eight-track music….

Face the truth; Give peaks a chance

Posted by Shonto Begay on Oct 13, 2011 in Shonto BegayComments Off on Face the truth; Give peaks a chance

With messages against snow making written upon our faces, we stare out from alleys and street corners of Flagstaff. Like Maori warriors, we speak our ancestors’ prayers across our skin. When audible words no longer carry weight and pleas cast into the coming storm dissipate, we volunteered our faces to carry our messages. You have seen us, our mugs wheat-pasted and enlarged in black-and-white expressions of our intent as you navigate the streets of this town. My good friend and fellow artist/visionary, Chip Thomas, is the driving force behind…

Between pain and sanctuary; Putting the past to rest to understand the present

Posted by Shonto Begay on Sep 8, 2011 in Shonto BegayComments Off on Between pain and sanctuary; Putting the past to rest to understand the present

In 1862, my people were rounded up and forced to walk over 450 miles to Bosque Redondo, near Ft. Sumner, N.M. This was Manifest Destiny in its glorious and ugly expansion with no regard to the preceding culture. There were four different routes that brought 9,000 prisoners eventually. Hundreds died along the trail. In 1865, the Bosque was the most populated place anywhere in New Mexico. Four years of excruciating and marginal existence at the “reservation” saw many deaths. In the end, it was a failure at an attempt to “Americanize” us. It was…

At home on earth; Meditations on returning to one’s source

Posted by Shonto Begay on Aug 4, 2011 in Shonto BegayComments Off on At home on earth; Meditations on returning to one’s source

Now that I have seen 57 winters, I know I have fewer winters to feel. I feel more connected than ever before to that ground that holds my umbilical cord, as well as my childrens’. I can never sever my tether there … and here. Every week I see my mother’s face, and upon her face, all will read clearly, “I am happy, my son, I am light of grief seeing you here again.” She feeds me. She shuffles on arthritic ankles mixing dough there in her kitchen, the kitchen that rung with her silvery laughter. She speaks of time past when my father lived and…

Breaking Through My Horizon; A hitchhiker’s lost diary

Posted by Shonto Begay on Jun 30, 2011 in Shonto BegayComments Off on Breaking Through My Horizon; A hitchhiker’s lost diary

On that very hot and dusty summers day in 1972, I held out my thumb an willed and old Chevy truck to a stop. “Haa nizaa goh?” (How far?) “A’ayiddi ji’, Cowsprings Ji.” (A short way, just to Cowsprings.) It was a brief ride but it was progress nonetheless. I had walked out that morning from my sheepcamp four and a half miles off U.S. 160 that courses through our portion of the Rez. A week before 4th of July events in neighboring towns, I was fueled with expectations. It was an excitement of that unknown that was partially responsible for…

Fear no art; Icon and controversy

Posted by Shonto Begay on May 26, 2011 in Shonto BegayComments Off on Fear no art; Icon and controversy

It has been over 10 years since I created a stir in my community with my art. I want to revisit this tempest not out of any residual angst, but to further educate the viewing public. Fortunately for me, most of my viewing public is made up of sophisticated consumers. But for those not familiar with this event, here it is … again. Three months into an exhibit of my paintings at the Museum of Northern Arizona in 1998, I received a call from the newspaper informing me of a complaint lodged by a local mother, who was concerned that her grade…

Spring messenger; Connections though contact

Posted by Shonto Begay on Apr 21, 2011 in Shonto BegayComments Off on Spring messenger; Connections though contact

Spring is finally here again. The long winter’s slumber once again is awakened by squawking pinyon jays. The red earth once again dominates as winter’s lace of ice recedes. Sheepcamps are alive with bleatings of newborn lambs and kids. The moon of “the stirring of the seedlings” is steeped in Mother Earth. Cornfields are ready to receive this year’s crop. It’s time for the sheep shears to be sharpened. It is the time of Mysteries and Miracles. At this time one spring morning in ’04, six months after the passing of my father, my mother stepped…

Accepting acceptance; At home in a community of artists

Posted by Shonto Begay on Mar 17, 2011 in Shonto BegayComments Off on Accepting acceptance; At home in a community of artists

As some of you may know by now, I was the featured artist at the Heard Museum a couple of weekends ago and therefore was not able to attend the third annual Viola Awards gala. I would like to congratulate all the recipients of the Viola awards. It truly is a blessing to be part of such a vibrant community of artists, to be part of a community that treasures you. All of you, especially the nominees that went home without awards, you are someone’s muse, someone’s nomination. The Heard Museum held its 53rd annual Native Fair and Market the first…

Winona me over; It will be heard

Posted by Shonto Begay on Feb 10, 2011 in Shonto BegayComments Off on Winona me over; It will be heard

In spite of the extreme cold weather, I was glad to see many people out to hear Winona LaDuke at the Audrey Auditorium last Tuesday evening. It was good to see and hear her again. As a native woman, she holds a very sacred position as a messenger of humanity and Mother Earth. I believe it is always appropriate to begin in one’s own language. It is the recognition of the divine. To create a cleansing vibration of the larynx and to position the tongue to speak power gives one an identity. As Winona spoke of issues concerning human interaction…

May we all; A prayer for the new decade

Posted by Shonto Begay on Jan 6, 2011 in Shonto BegayComments Off on May we all; A prayer for the new decade

May we all move forward into the New Year and decade with courage. This is written as a petition to God, to the Great Spirit and many more power names. Yet in the end it is into the great mystery, however we view it, whatever name we gave it. Our appeals for mercy and validation of our being remains always the truth. A common cry from a humble From the foot of the Sacred Mountain, Do’k’o oos liid, I cast my prayers into the infinite soul of the universe. In the name of all that calls her mother, in the name of all that receives and is…