Ariz. - A Navajo prayer welcomed home from Santa Fe about 900 sandpaintings
worth about $2.5 million last Tuesday.
College museum curator Harry Walters, who greeted the sacred art
last Tuesday, said the collection of sandpaintings, which were made
in the 1920s and 1930s, include artwork from Navajo ceremonies that
who started working to obtain the collection two years ago, named
ceremonies such as the Eagle Way, Water Way, Upward Reaching Way,
Red Ant Way, Big Star Way, Shooting Way, Mountain Shooting Way,
Bead Way, Hail Way and Plume Way.
said Martin Sacks, a wealthy businessman he knew for many years,
told him about four or five years ago that he was thinking about
giving his sandpainting collection to Diné College.
said that since Sacks was so wealthy, he could buy traditional native
items from the black market, which is where he probably obtained
the sandpainting collection.
said Sacks routinely returned cultural pieces to their original
Walters remembered Sacks telling him that he could give the sandpainting
collection to any museum but that Diné College would bring
it back to life.
said that even though the sandpaintings were done by an Anglo woman
- Franc Lynette Newcomb, the wife of trading post owner A.J. Newcomb
- they are still sacred images.
said that in the future the Newcomb sandpaintings will be valuable
because they will be the only thing for Navajo children to fall
back on if they want to know their culture.
said the Navajo people are entering a new phase that involves young
people understanding their culture - but only according to Western
said that means they tend to be afraid of something like this -
sandpaintings of extinct Navajo ceremonies.
young people often hear stories that items such as these carry negative
elements, he said.
(sandpaintings) were done in ceremony," he said. "The
negative part comes when someone doesn't know anything and messes
with it disrespectfully."
said Franc Newcomb did the sandpaintings under the guidance of Navajo
medicine man Hosteen Klah.
said Franc Newcomb learned to speak fluent Navajo and became close
friends with the Navajo people, especially Klah.
to a paper on Franc Johnson Newcomb by Patricia Fogelman Lange,
Klah conducted several ceremonies including the Night Way, Chiricahua
Wind Way and Hail Way.
wrote that Klah had been concerned for years because fewer Navajo
children were becoming medicine man apprentices because of Western
a young child between seven and nine years old lived with a singer,
learning the necessary chants, herbal remedies, and rituals to become
a sandpainter," she reported.
stated that Klah, who was in his 50s, had no apprentice when he
met Franc Newcomb.
said Klah was distressed that his life might end without transferring
his knowledge to a successor and when he noticed Franc Newcomb's
intense fascination with Navajo ceremonies, he decided to make her
Newcomb, who was then 30, had to be purified in a Blessing Way ceremony,
her (Franc Newcomb) middle class Anglo standards could not be overcome,
and modesty prevented her from baring herself in front of others
as was the Navajo custom, she substituted a sheer blouse permitting
Klah to perform the ceremony," Lange reported.
said Klah and Franc Newcomb collaborated on sandpaintings she drew
and painted on paper and illustration board.
Newcomb described her first attempt at sandpainting: "When
the rites had ended and I had time to try putting these designs
on paper, I found that my mental pictures were a jumble of rainbows,
crossed logs, tall corn, and medicine bags."
stated that after Franc Newcomb recovered from a bout with the flu,
Klah decided to have a blessing chant over her because he believed
that her illness resulted from her exposure to ceremonies and powerful
reported, "When word of this ceremony over a white woman spread
throughout the reservation, Newcomb believed 'from that time on
I was regarded as a member of the Navaho tribe. Whenever I desired
to witness a sandpainting or a healing rite on any part of the reservation,
even among Indians I had never seen before, all I need to say to
gain entrance was 'I have had a ceremony.'"
said that Newcomb's daughter Priscilla told about the time her mother
was recovering from a prolonged illness and a group of Navajo medicine
men traveled to her sick bed in Albuquerque to talk with her about
her understanding of a vanishing Navajo ceremony.
added that the college has individuals who are medicine people and
knowledgeable about how to use the sandpaintings.
sandpaintings may not be used in classrooms but they will be a reference
and resource, he said.
said he will be looking over the collection and learning more about
traditional Navajo sandpaintings and ceremonies.
said young Navajos who are apprentices of medicine men can learn
what sandpaintings are.
Navajo students who are working on their dissertations and degrees
and faculty and staff can use the sandpaintings as references and
resources, he said.
said other museums would probably just put the sandpaintings in
storage and never use them.
said the college museum is being renovated and the expected completion
date is sometime this summer.
900 sandpaintings, which arrived in four crates that were 4 feet
long, 2 feet wide and two feet high, were placed in a secure vault.