Will Evans, Western Artist
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Will Evans was an immigrant from Wales, in 1892, at the age of 15 when his parents settled in Salt Lake City, Utah. The family had converted to the Mormon faith in Wales and chose to move to the United States because of religious persecution in their country. Will’s father was a coal miner in Wales, but could not find such work in Utah. Hearing about coal in the San Juan River Valley, the family set out for Fruitland, New Mexico in 1893. Will chose not to work in the mines with his dad but looked for other jobs. He found constructions jobs where his fellow workers were Diné. His exposure to the Diné set his future lifestyle.
In 1898, Will Evans was offered a chance to live on the Navajo Nation with two friends who were opening a trading post on the reservation at Shiprock, New Mexico. This led to a lifetime pursuit of studying the Navajo culture. In 1917, Will purchased the Shiprock Trading Company from his friends, moved his family there, and began his career as a Navajo trader. Will was intrigued with Navajo religion and saw similarities to his Mormon religion. He witnessed his first sandpainting by a Diné medicine man and became intrigued.
Will Evans (1877-1954) attended many Navajo ceremonies, became friends with Diné medicine men, had an employee at the trading post who was an apprentice medicine man, and began to understand that changes were occurring among the Diné that would result in the loss of their religion. It was then that he decided to preserve in paintings, scenes he witnessed in sandpaintings.
In the 1930s, Will began painting images on furniture and any other object he could find—bottles, wooden spoons, chairs, tables, lamps and lamp shades, buckets, pans and anything in sight. He painted a mural on the exterior of the trading post wall. He became obsessed with recording images of sandpaintings as he remembered them.
Note: when we say Diné, as opposed to Navaho or Navajo, we are referring to the people and not the government. Since 1969, their government refers to itself as the Navajo Nation.