Navajo Sand Paintings

Luther Douglas Navajo Indian Ceremonial Sand Paintings

The Origins of Sand Painting

The Navajo artist is called a hataali or singer, though the commercialization of sand painting has meant that the craft is no longer confined to the singer; anyone can create sand paintings.

Today, the Navajo use sand to make paintings, He prepares the ground, covers it with the fine, clean riverbed sand and slowly, evenly, creates pictures known as sand paintings. Finely ground charcoal, corn meal, pollen, mudstone, gypsum and turquoise run gracefully through his fingers to form animals, plants, sunbeams and rainbows.

Working from the center out - because this is the way a flower grows - he creates an intricate scene, leaving an opening at the east side of the painting for the "holy people" to enter.

Because he is simply demonstrating his art and not taking part in a healing ceremony, he makes his sand paintings with a deviation p such as transposing colors or eliminating a figure - so as not to offend the deities. The audience does not see the mistake but the holy people would know it was there. Even before the commercialization of the art form, there were about 1,200 designs used in a wide range of ceremonies, which varied according to the illness being treated.

Historians say that the sand painting designs were probably borrowed from Pueblo Indians, who created huge murals. Navajos give a more religious interpretation to the origin of sand paintings, believing them to be gifts from the deities.

But in the 1970's Navajo craftsmen began to draw other figures, and in the 1980's they expanded the subject areas even further. Today, sand paintings are as diverse as any other form of art.

The Luther Douglas Navajo Indian Ceremonial sand paintings are on display in Blatchley Hall.