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James Wayne Yazzie (1943-1969)

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James Wayne Yazzie was a “gifted and independent primitive” (Dunn 1968) who produced large arresting native scenes of the Navajo.  Although self-taught, Yazzie used the Santa Fe Indian School Studio style in his art.  His use of flatly applied color areas and pastel hues are mistakenly derived from the early works of Harrison Begay and Gerald Nailor, but he was more concerned with specific time, place and circumstances rather than with an imagined idealization. (Brody, 1971).


Yazzie’s genre work is unusual in that he depicts dramatic events such as a Navajo ceremonial dance where the actors are central but minor in the widening circles of spectators in a landscape. (Samuels, 1985)


“James Wayne Yazzie, born in 1943, painted in water media and oils.  Frequently there are many figures in a single painting.  Frequently, too, there are touches of humor, such as a Navajo girl pulling a man out to dance with her, or where a woman in the foreground is pouring a dipper of water over a sleeping tribesman.  Yazzie was killed in a train accident in 1969.” (Tanner, 1973)


Brody, J. J. Indian Painters & White Patrons, UNM Press, Albuquerque, 1971.

Dunn, Dorothy. American Indian Painting of the Southwest and Plains Areas, 1968

Lester, Patrick D. The Biographical Directory of Native American Painters, 1995

Samuels, Peggy & Harold.  Samuels’ Encyclopedia of Artists of the American West, 1985

Tanner, Clara Lee.  Southwest Indian Painting, a Changing Art, 1973.



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