First American Art Magazine No. 22, Spring 2019 - Page 27

by Begay bear marked similarities to cere- monial sandpaintings. Begay often uses an internal framing device, presenting his figures within the protective arms of the same rainbow guardian that we see in sandpainting. Also found in both artist’s works are representations of the Holy People, the sun, the moon, the Cloud People, and the four sacred plants that are presented in the conventionalized forms they take in sandpaintings. But, perhaps more importantly, Begay and Nailor employ these iconographic conventions to convey core Navajo cultural truths and values as expressed in the Navajo Creation Story, just as ceremonial practitioners do in sandpaintings. The Navajo Creation Story details the emergence of the Navajo people into the present world after existence in three previous worlds, the creation of the earth’s beings, and the placement of the four sacred mountains that delineate the Navajo homeland’s boundaries. It defines the Navajos’ role in the world as well as the proper nature of relation- ships between Navajos and between the Navajo people and the cosmos. Based upon extensive interviews with Navajo cultural consultants, Maureen Trudelle Schwarz concludes that the Creation Story “contains the essence for all that exists or is ever possible.” 4 Further, Schwarz contends, the Creation Story forms the aesthetic locus of Navajo culture. Schwarz cites fellow anthropologist Jacques Maquet, who explains that “certain privileged fields where awareness and performance are higher, where expectations and efforts converge” exist in cultures, and “The class or classes of objects that are localized in these areas of heightened aesthetic consciousness constitute the aesthetic locus of a culture.” 5 Following Maquet’s lead, Schwarz concludes that “the Navajo creation story is the aesthetic locus of Navajo culture,” and “the process of creation of aesthetic form evolves from the story.” 6 Concern with the Navajo origin story is clearly evident in Begay’s and Nailor’s work. Both artists exemplify the ways in which an art form only recently introduced to the Navajos—watercolor painting on paper in a representational style—developed from the Creation Story. Begay’s Four Sacred Mountains series of paintings is most clearly informed by it. This series of four paintings depicts the sacred mountains of the Navajos and is based on the oral history of their place- ment by First Man and First Woman, as told in the Navajo Creation Story and recounted in ceremonial sandpainting. While Begay had gained knowledge of sandpainting practice and the Navajo oral history that sandpaintings embody while living on the reservation, he also consulted Washington Matthews’s Navaho Legends to complete this series. 7 above Harrison Begay (Navajo, 1 9 1 7– 2 0 1 2 ) , Fo u r S a c r e d Mountains: North Mountain, 1959, watercolor on paper, 13½ × 18 in., collection of the Museum of Northern Arizona, Flagstaff, C659. Image courtesy of the Museum of Northern Arizona. opposite Harrison Begay (Navajo, 1917–2012), Four Sacred Mountains: West Mountain, 1959, watercolor on paper, 13½ × 18 in., collection of the Museum of Northern Arizona, Flagstaff, C657. Image courtesy of the Museum of Northern Arizona. 4. Maureen Trudelle Schwarz, “The Biil: Traditional Navajo Female Attire as Metaphor of Navajo Aesthetic Organization,” Dress 21 (1994): 76. 5. Jaques Maquet, Introduction to Aesthetic Anthropology (Malibu, CA: Undena Publications, 1979), 30. 6. Schwarz, “The Biil,” 76. 7. Leland C. Wyman, The Sacred Mountains of the Navajo: In Four Paintings by Harrison Begay (Flagstaff: Northern Arizona Society of Science & Art, 1967); Washington Matthews, Navaho Legends (1897; reprint, Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 2002). Begay completed two versions of The Four Sacred Mountains series. One painting of the first set was purchased by the School of American Research (now School for Advanced Research), and the other three were given to a medicine man in return for an Enemyway ceremony performed for Begay. The second set was commissioned by Tucson Indian art dealer Clay Lockett in 1959 and then donated to the Museum of Northern Arizona in 1963. SPRING 2019 | 25