Harrison Begay – Patriarch of Navajo Art

Harrison Begay who’s Navajo name is (Haashké yah Níyá, that means “Warrior Who Walked Up to His Enemy”)

He was born in White Cone, Arizona on the Navajo Reservation in White Cone, Arizona sometime around 1914 to 1917. He said He’s never been sure about the date.

His mother belonged to the Zuni White Corn Clan, and his father was Walk Around Clan / Near Water Clan. Young Harrison herded his family’s flock of sheep near Greasewood, where he still lives.

In 1933, he entered the Santa Fe Indian School to study art under Dorothy Dunn.
He is correctly known as the patriarch of twentieth century Navajo art.

In his art he depicts religion, life and animals of the Navajo native American people.
He painted children, animals, shepherds, weavers, and native American ceremonies, including the “Squaw Dance” and several Yei Bei Chai spiritual dances.

Navajo Squaw Dance by Harrison Begay

Painting of Navajo Squaw Dance – Date created: circa 1990 by Harrison Begay (Haskay Yahne Yah [Warrior Who Walked Up to His Enemy]), Diné (Navajo) – Media/Materials: Watercolor from an acrylic base.

His favorite medium was watercolor from an acrylic base.  This medium enabled him to capture the soft pastel colors for which he is so well known.

In 1936 Begay painted Navajo Horse Race at the school and sold the piece to Charles Mc C. Reeve for twelve dollars.  It is now in the Southwest Museum connection in Los Angeles.

Begay won two grand awards at the Gallup Inter-Tribal Ceremonial and has been a consistent winner at state and tribal fairs. In 1954, he was awarded the French Ordre des Palmes Académiques. In 1995, he was awarded the Native American Masters Award by the Heard Museum. In 2003, he won the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Southwestern Association for Indian Arts, the organizers of the annual Santa Fe Indian Market.

Begay returned to the Navajo reservation in 1947, and has made his living as a painter ever since. Begay has continued to paint in the Dorothy Dunn “Studio style” throughout his long career – he was still painting (in acrylics) in 2004, at age 90.

Works from his career are in permanent museum collections around the world almost every important public and private collection of Native American art, including the following:

  • Museum of the American Indian
  • Smithsonian Institute
  • Museum of Modern Art
  • Museum of Northern Arizona
  • Heard Museum
  • Museum of Indian Arts and Culture
  • Wheelwright Museum
  • Southwest Museum
  • Philbrook Museum
  • Gilcrease Museum
  • National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum
  • The Museum of Western Art
  • Desert Caballeros Western Museum
  • Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art
  • Great Plains Art Museum

Begay was awarded the 2003 Lifetime Achievement Award by the Southwestern Association of Indian Artists, organizers of the annual Santa Fe Indian Art Market.

His portrait was featured in the Smithsonian Institute’s Museum of the American Indian in 2004.

Harrison Begay biography from Encyclopedia of World Biography
Harrison Begay at Indigenous Research Center
Harrison Begay in the Grove Dictionary of Art
Biography at Medicine Man Gallery

Squaw Dance Painting by Charles Yazzie, (Navajo)

Squaw Dance Painting by 1965 Charles Yazzie,  (Navajo)


  • Title:

    Squaw Dance

  • Date created:

    circa 1965

  • Artists/Makers:

    Charles Yazzie (Charley Yazzie), Diné (Navajo), b. 1944

  • Place:

    Winslow; Navajo County; Arizona; USA (inferred)

  • Format/Object name:


  • Media/Materials:

    Paperboard, gouache/opaque watercolors

  • Techniques:

    Drawn, painted

  • Collection History/Provenance:

    Collection history unknown; found in MAI collections and catalogued circa 1983.

    Source: Smithsonian American Art Museum