Shonto Begay

Born in a hogan, Shonto Begay grew up herding sheep in Kletha Valley in Shonto, Arizona. One of 16 children, his mother is a traditional Navajo rug weaver from the Bitter Water Clan, and his father was a medicine man born to the Salt Clan. “In my heart I hold a boundless gratitude to having been born and brought up on the vast beauty of the upper Diné (Navajo land). I see the world and my life experiences through this lens. My paintings are expressions of the purity of the Shonto Plateau I still call home. Beauty in the truth, beauty in the sacred, and the mysteries. I paint to share colors as an expression of having been,” says Begay, Diné (Navajo) painter, illustrator, author, and educator.

He received an Associate of Fine Arts degree at the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, and a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from California College of Arts and Crafts. Begay attended Bureau of Indian Affairs boarding schools on the Navajo reservation and high school in Kayenta, Arizona. He worked in the 1980s as a National Park Service ranger at Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming and Navajo National Monument in Arizona. Begay began professionally writing, illustrating, and painting in 1983, and he is represented in numerous museums and fine art galleries. A true storyteller, he has written and illustrated several books for Scholastic and Random House publishers. He speaks to audiences of all ages about inspiration and the importance of education and embracing cultural backgrounds.

Begay’s art captures the striking beauties of a Navajo upbringing and the realities of modern reservation life. A traditional life of sustainability and prayer helped Begay endure the brutality of the U.S. government boarding school he was forced to attend as a child. He paints in a series of small brush strokes that repeat like the words of a traditional Navajo blessing prayer. His images hearken back to heartfelt childhood memories and resonate with the constant struggle for balance and harmony with humankind and Earth.

His artwork has been featured in solo exhibitions at the American Indian Contemporary Arts Museum, Arizona State Museum, the Booth Western Art Museum, the Museum of Northern Arizona, the National Museum of Wildlife Art, the Phoenix Art Museum, the Utah Museum of Fine Arts, and the Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian in Santa Fe. He made his film debut as the character “Cowboy” in the Native-produced Monster Slayer Project—a short film inspired by the Navajo origin story.

Shonto Begay is represented by Mark Sublette Medicine Man Gallery, Tucson, Arizona.
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