Sandpainter Calls the Shots sandpainting

Sandwiched between calling the Phoenix Suns' home games during the NBA finals for KTNN Radio/Window Rock and a trip to France, Joe Ben, Jr. delivered a sandpainting. "Rain in the Line of the Sky," to the Museum. He had created the work especially for the RAIN exhibit.

Originally from Shiprock, New Mexico, on the Navajo Reservation, Ben is one of today's most talented sandpainters. And, thanks to the Phoenix Suns, he is also nationally known for his play-by-play radio announcing in Navajo.

Recognized as one of the masters of Navajo sandpainting, Ben has practised his art for more than twenty years. he first learned the art form of sandpainting as a twelve-year-old, receiving instruction and encouragement from his father. Over the years, Ben has refined his technique, producing works of art characterized by bold color, unique texture, and astonishing detail. All his sandpaintings are done free hand, without the assistance of any mechanical devices. Ben uses only natural materials: sand, ground rock, and semi-precious stones, and no commercial dyes.

Ben exhibits all over the country, as well as abroad, and has received a number of significant, first-place awards for his work. He is the first Navajo sandpainter to receive a fellowship from Southwestern Association on Indian Affairs (SWAIA) in Santa Fe.

Ben is committed to the traditions of his art form, yet has not been hesitant to go beyond traditional parameters. "I did not want to do the kind of sandpainting that a medicine man would have done 50 years ago," explains Ben. Instead, I wanted to address this as a contemporary work just as Hosteen Klah did with his sandpainting symbols on textiles. I did not want to just reproduce ritualistic symbols, but, like Hosteen Klah, go further and explore the universalism of these symbols."

Reprinted from EARTHSONG, The Heard Museum Newsletter, Summer 1993
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