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  • This is the full view of the sandpainting by artist Hosteen Etsitty.  It features Sky Woman from the old Navajo stories.
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Sky Woman Sandpainting

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Product Description

Framde dimensions: 20 3/4" x 24 3/4"


Sky Woman: She who brings the gentle rain



Sky Woman and Sky Man came down from the cloud houses and appeared to the Navajo people because they saw the Navajo peoples obedience and respect for the sacred laws of the natural universe. Sky Man and Sky Woman instructed the medicine practitioners in the proper ways to ask for important components to the seasons that the sky people provided, such as rain and snow. In this way the Holy People knew that the only way the Navajo people were going to learn to live amongst them was to give them the knowledge to control natural forces of their own sacred land. The spiritual forces that the Holy People possessed were never given to the Navajo because the Holy People knew that the Navajo came into this existence to become more understanding of being human than depending heavily on the natural elements the sky people provided. In exchange for these natural blessings the Navajo showed thanks and respect to the sky people by making beautiful songs and chants that gave thanks to both of them. Today our medicine people include sky woman and sky man in certain ceremonial sandpaintings to help keep the balance and harmony between the sky people and Navajo people, a ceremony done at the spring and winter solstices. This would maintain the harmony that might have been disrupted by people. The sandpainting seen was created using a variety of natural minerals that were crushed into a desired grain size.



Hosteen Etsitty


The artist Hosteen Etsitty grew up in Shiprock, New Mexico on the Navajo reservation. He first learned the art of Navajo Sandpainting at the age of 17 from older people directly connected with the spiritual community. Since then, Hosteen has been perfecting the art for over 30 years. In order for Hosteen to create permanent forms of these sacred traditionally temporary sandpaintings, he had to go though several Navajo ceremonies, making offerings to the Holy People to ask for their blessing on his artwork as a means to provide for his family. Hosteen uses a paintbrush to spread water-based glue onto his work surface. He then sprinkles sand onto the glue and knocks off the excess, presses the design and waits for it to dry. Each color has to be completely dry before switching to a different color, which makes this a time consuming art form.


Sandpainting History


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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