1972, etching on paper, Franklin Stewart. Ryan Williams/NHO
work by Hoke Denetsosie featured in the Museum of Northern
Arizonas exhibit When We Were Young. Ryan Williams/NHO
FLAGSTAFF, AZ - An exhibit featuring Navajo and Hopi children's
art from the 1930s-70s is on display through fall 2016 at the Museum
of Northern Arizona (MNA) featuring around 20 children, some who
went on to become professional artists.
The Junior Indian Art Show, originally known as the Junior Art
Show, was conceived by MNA co-founder Mary-Russell Ferrell Colton
in 1931. As the years progressed, the show focused on children who
attended schools on the Navajo, Hopi and Havasupai reservations.
The show ended in 1974, according to records.
The exhibit, When We Were Young, was put up in conjunction with
the inaugural Youth Fest in May as a testament to MNA's long-term
support of art education and Native artists.
MNA Supervisory Archaeologist Jim Collette, and curator for
the show, said that the museum has more than 250 pieces of artwork
that was displayed during the years of the show. He saw the art
pieces as they were being cleaned up in February after they had
languished in storage for years.
"It was Mary-Russell [Ferrell Colton's] idea to try and
get some youth art eventually from the reservations and have a competitive
show," Collette said. "It went on for decades, into the
70s, and was pretty successful."
The junior artists were given a dollar or two as prizes - pretty
good money at the time - and the museum purchased some of the pieces.
Included in the show is some silver work, kachina dolls and leather
work along with the paintings. The ages of the kids was from around
six to 18.
"It was certainly a heck of a lot better than I could have
done when I was that age," Collette said. "And there was
a good diversity to it."
Most of the artwork in the exhibit dates from the 1930-50s.
Some artists who are known to art collectors today who participated
in the show and whose work is featured are Delbridge Honanie, Terrance
Talaswaima, Hoke Denetsosie and Anthony Honahnie. Other artists
included are: Raymond Naha, Tony Begay, Gibson Talahytewa, Ramon
Albert Jr., Leroy Kewanyama, Randall "Randy" Sahmie, Swayne
"Webb" Polacca, Hansen Twoitsie, Dennis Numkena and Loren
Both Honanie and Talaswaima were founders of the artist collective
Artist Hopid, along with Neil David Sr., Michael Kabotie and Milland
The museum has adult and youth pieces from Talaswaima. It is
the first time the adult pieces have been shown - they were bequeathed
to the museum by Margaret Taylor's family after she passed away.
Denetsosie completed his piece when he was around 10-12 in 1934.
He went on to do book illustrations, postcards, murals and Christmas
plates. One of his well-known works included the "Little Herder"
series about Navajo life.
"These are folks that when they were this age they entered
the show and they won some prizes and then later on they continued,"
Most of the art focuses on things about everyday life that struck
the kids -like a person weaving, the natural landscape, a pueblo
that an artist was familiar with, a person on horseback - very few
pieces are abstract or modern. The exhibit includes watercolors,
pencil, crayon, chalk and ink drawings, collage, block prints, silk
screen and stencils. Three dimensional work includes katsina dolls,
weaving, needlework, metalwork, soap and wood carvings, basketry,
leatherwork and folk dolls. All of the pieces have been taken out
of their original frames, if any, and rematted.
The museum has been able to get information on some of the artists,
but some of them may only be known among their family and community
members on Navajo and Hopi.
"We do get occasional people who come in and they know
who [some of the artists] were," Collette said. "That's
one of the good reasons for people who come in from Hopi and Navajo
land. You might recognize some of these names and know them."
Most of the artwork has not been on display since they were
first shown, which was decades ago. Collette said that if you were
a youth in that time it must have been exciting to win a prize and
win a few bucks.
"In the 1930s, you bring home two dollars, you're not doing
too bad," he said.