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Canku Ota

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(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


September 8, 2001 - Issue 44


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Re-creating the Traditional Navajo Lifestyle


 by Marley Shebala Navajo Times Staff-August 30, 2001


Andy Tsihnahjinnie, in Navajo History, 1971,
Rough Rock, Arizina: Navajo Curriculum Center

WINDOW ROCK - As she moved slowly around the exhibit of her husband's work, she smiled often and sometimes burst into laughter.

Her children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren and great-great grandchildren followed her around the art show, also smiling and laughing.

Minnie June McGirt-Tsihnahjinnie married Andrew Van Tsihnahjinnie in 1954 and they had seven children, three girls and four boys.

Andrew, who died in November 2000, worked out of a home studio near Pinnacle Peak in the late 1950's and late 60's, which was visited by other renown artists, such as Harrison Begay, Robert Chee and Pabilita Velarde.

He was already established as an artist. His formal art education began with the now-famous Dorothy Dunn Studio in Santa Fe, N.M., which later gave life to the Institute of American Indian Arts.

Minnie, who is Seminole and Creek, said the part of the Navajo Nation Museum's exhibit of her husband's work that she really enjoyed was the re-creation of his home studio in Rough Rock.

She smiled and said the only items missing from the "little room" were her kitchen plates, glasses and cups.

"He'd (Andrew) dip his brushes into his coffee cup," Minnie laughed and said.

She also noticed that the room was also very clean; there were no paints on the walls.

Minnie said that as she looked at the various artwork of her husband she remembered him painting them.

"I appreciate all of this...I just can't express my appreciation," she said.

The Tsihnahjinnie exhibition, which opened with a reception on Saturday, Feb. 24, attracted more people than the museum staff anticipated.

Anna Marie Hauser, the widow of internationally recognized sculptor Allan Hauser, was among the visitors on hand who enjoyed live music, traditional Navajo singing and dancing and food.

Hauser, who is half Spanish and Navajo, said she and her husband often traveled to the Navajo Reservation because Allan loved to study the variety of facial expressions of the people.

And she said that was something her husband and Andy shared.

Hauser said they loved to re-create that traditional Navajo lifestyle, which included wagons and horses and beautifully dressed people who seemed to always be smiling.

"I think it's wonderful," she said. "They expressed what they felt. And you can see it."

Hauser said that another reason for her husband and Andy to paint and sculpt Navajo people in the 40's, 50's and 60's was because the dominant society had the misperception that Native people were "savages, cruel."

She said if more people had come to the Navajo Reservation at that time, they would have seen families and children playing.

"They would have seen people that were free," Hauser said. "Allan and Andy expressed that the best."

Tsosie Tsihnahjinnie, one of the seven children, noticed that one of the paintings in the exhibit was very different from the others.

The painting appeared to depict the inside of a trading post. A lone Navajo man at the counter held a yellow colored rock in his hand and dotted lines ran from his hand to a small box with a strap.

The other Navajos in the painting were drinking red-colored soda.

Tsosie remembered that the artwork showed a period of World War II when Navajo people were told to look for yellow rock and bring it to the trading post.

The yellow rock was uranium and the small box with a strap was a Geiger counter, he explained.

Tsosie said the painting was very unusual because most of his father's art depicted outdoor scenes.

If it was an indoor scene, it generally was in a hogan and during a traditional Navajo ceremony, he said.

But Tsosie said the bottom line was that his father painted what he saw everyday.

And so what people will see when they view "Andrew Van Tsihnahjinnie: A Celebration and Reflection" is what the artist saw.

And what he saw was a physical life that has long passed.

There are drawings of the Navajo goddess Changing Woman and her sons, the Twin Warriors.

A Navajo family rides on horseback with a rainbow in the background and Father Sky in the background.

A father and his young son ride on a brown and white horse. And his wife and young daughter ride a prancing blue horse.

Wild beautiful horses fight the lasso of a young Navajo warrior against a large pinkish-red pinnacle rock and a dark blue and red sky.

Tsosie noted that the art pieces produced by his father in the exhibit are only a small portion of what he created during his lifetime.

There just was not enough room for the hundreds of other paintings, sculptures, sand paintings and cloth prints that were created by his father, he said.

Tsosie said the museum staff decided not to display work that depicted traditional Navajo winter ceremonies.

As he looked around the exhibit and watched his mother, brothers, sisters, nephews, nieces, aunts and uncles slowly walk around the exhibit, he smiled because they never stopped talking and laughing as they viewed the Tsihnahjinnie collection.

Tsosie stopped in front of the re-created Rough Rock studio and remembered his father playing his guitar, which stands in the little room, along with his amplifier.

He said his father played the Beatles, the Carpenters and other pop music.

Tsosie pointed to an old photo of the Navajo Nation Band that hung on the wall of the studio and said his father played the trombone.

"He (my dad) could hear music on the radio and play it. It's not that big of a deal to a lot of musicians," Tsosie said with a shrug of his shoulders.

He smiled as he remembered how his dad shied away from publicity.

Tsosie said, "He really was a traditional artist, more like a tribal person. And that means that you're not supposed to call much attention upon yourself. He let other people do that."

The "Andrew Van Tsihnahjinnie: A Celebration and Reflection" exhibit runs from February to June 2001.

  Maps by Travel

Dorothy Dunn Studio
When Dorothy Dunn established The Studio for art instruction at the Santa Fe Indian School in September 1932, she helped to bring together national and local movements that would improve Indian education, develop a new Indian painting genre, and foster a market for Indian painting.

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Canku Ota is a copyright © 2000, 2001 of Vicki Lockard and Paul Barry.


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