Native American Sand Painting

Native American sand paintings are a very beautiful and popular art form for collectors today.  But traditionally, the dry paintings are created to heal a person during a ceremony.  The type of image and ceremony used is determined by the illness or disease from which the person is suffering.  The sand painting may contain an image of the Holy People called yeibicheii.  The tribe medicine man may ask the yeibicheii to help him paint the image and therefore help heal the person in need.  The medicine man also checks the sand painting for accuracy as far as symmetry is concerned.  The more accurate the sand painting, the more healing it can do. 



In some cases, more than one sand painting is used in a healing ceremony.  During the ceremony, the person who needs healing will sit on the Native American sand painting.  The sand painting serves as a portal for the spirits and through the painting, the person can absorb the healing energies from these spirits. 

The sand paintings were not originally meant to be sold or hung on the wall.  Once the ceremony is complete, the sand painting must be destroyed, thus allowing the sand to return to the Earth.  This is necessary because the sand painting is now seen as toxic, having absorbed the illness, and must be destroyed.  The entire ceremony, from the painting to the destroying is usually completed within a twelve hour period.  The medicine man never wrote down everything that needed to be known to perform the healing ceremony, but rather it was passed down from generation to generation.

The Pueblo tribe was the first to create Native American sand paintings, but the art soon spread to the Navajos, Apaches, Tohono O’odhams, Zunis, and many tribes in Southern California.  Today though, it is the Navajo who are most active in creating Native American sand paintings.

It is believed that it was a medicine man by the name of Fred Stevens who was the first to create a Native American sand painting for sale in the 1950s.  A trader in Box Canyon, Arizona by the name of Rex Bollin suggested to Fred that he sell a sand painting, since they were so beautiful.  However, Fred had to learn how to adhere the sand to the canvas.  To do this, he turned to artist George DeVille, who had been using sand in paintings for over 20 years.  There were problems initially, but after a while, they were worked out and Fred began selling his sand paintings.  Traditionally, the sands were of natural colored items like cornmeal and corn pollen, but today, artificial colors are often used to color the sand.  The sand paintings sold in the west today are very durable.  The sand used is not hand ground, but bought over the counter and applied through a tube.  Fred signed the original Native American sand paintings he created with the name “Grey Squirrel.”  Those are highly collectible as are the sand paintings of another artist – Eugene C. Joe Baatsoslani.

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