Navajo Rug Weavers
Over the years, many artists have turned from the traditional images of ceremonial sandpainting to more conventional depictions. Indeed, the best way to distinguish a ceremonial sandpainting from a contemporary one is as follows: if there are definite, recognizable images present, it is contemporary.
This is not to say that the two styles never cross over, but rather a general guideline to identification.
The detail displayed in contemporary sandpaintings is often breathtaking. Careful planning and extreme patience are needed before undertaking such a task. A skilled sandpainter will take weeks before completing an image like the one shown here.
However, sandpainting is an activity of which everyone can participate. All that is needed are simple and inexpensive tools, the desire, and a good imagination.
Although many critics look down on contemporary sandpainting (even commercial sandpainting as a whole), the practice is here to stay.
Armed with new ideas and ever-growing skill, the sandpainter is a strong contributor to our Nation's art history.
THE origin of sand-paintings, or dry-paintings as Washington Matthews calls them, is shrouded in the mists of the past. In 1880, a Mexican captive who had been reared among the Navajos said to Matthews:
'The Indians make figures of all their devils, sir.'
It was this hint which led to the discovery of their drypaintings, unsuspected until that time, though doubtless made for centuries. Since then it has been discovered that the Hopis and other Pueblos make sand-paintings in front of their altars, and in the vanishing ceremony of the Sun Dance the Cheyenne and other Plains Indians used both a sandpainting and rainbow kaytahns.
But it is among the Navajos that the ee-kah' (colored figures) has been brought to its greatest perfection, though its origin dates back to antiquity. It is suggestive of an Asiatic source that, among the Japanese, small pictures made with colored sands are drawn on a tray for the entertainment of guests.
In four different Navajo Chants the source of their sandpaintings is described. The yei of the Night Chant did not draw their Whirling Logs as we do now.
They had it on a sheet of some substance called naska. . . . It may have been cotton. . . . The yei who unfolded it to show the prophet said:
'We will not give you this picture; men are not as good as we; they might quarrel over the picture and tear it and that would bring misfortune; the black clouds would not come again, the rain would not fall, the corn would not grow; but you may paint it on the ground with the colors of the earth.'
In the Stricken Twins version of the Night Chant, as recorded by Washington Matthews, the gods spread out over the floor of the lodge a black fog on which to paint the picture.