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  • This Navajo Sandpainting has a lot going on.  The basic layout represents the four directions.
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Navajo Sandpainting

224.00 Ounces
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Product Description

Frame dimensions: 35 1/8" x 35 1/8"


The sandpainting you see here is an adaptation of a traditional element of Navajo religious culture. Intended to be both decorative and educational.  Traditionally, Navajo sandpaintings are made as part of healing ceremonies.

These religious sandpaintings are created during the course of their respective ceremony. With the correct songs and special medicine administered, the patient would lay on the sandpainting. Any ailment would be focused and absorbed by the holy figures specifically depicted in the painting. After the ceremony, the sandpainting is destroyed and scattered, thus destroying the ailment that was absorbed by the sandpainting. This ceremony takes several hours during the day to complete, the sandpainting could only utilize this activation in its ceremonial context.

As young Navajos became exposed to the outside culture, many of them began losing touch with their religious traditions in the push to become more modern.  In the 1920s a very powerful and influential medicine man, known as Hosteen Klah, or Left Handed Singer, began making rugs with patterns directly taken from sandpaintings. His intent was to preserve this part of the Navajo culture as a teaching tool for the young. This was a radical approach from two perspectives: 1) making permanent religious designs and 2) weaving performed by a man, which was traditionally done only by women. This illustrates how dire certain medicine men perceived the threat from the outside world, and how far many were willing to go, sacrificing some traditions in order to preserve the overall culture.

Representing sandpaintings in rug form is a very difficult and painstaking task, which only superior weavers can execute properly. Consequently, others began looking for a different means of passing this tradition on and eventually hit upon the idea of creating permanent sandpaintings on pieces of board.

Permanent sandpaintings lent themselves to be sold and became popular because of their uniqueness. Many traditionalists saw this development as a debasing of their religious heritage. Consequently, most sandpainters began adapting their craft by using traditionally inspired designs rather than outright copying of religious paintings. This also allowed a great deal of creativity in design and helped make sandpainting an art in its own right.

Although collected and used by some as a decorative art, sandpaintings also offer the outside world with a glimpse into the intensely personal world of Navajo healing ceremonies.

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