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Navajo Sandpaintings by Joe Ben, Jr.

The Four Arrow People - 17 x 30 - $2800

Joe Ben Sandpainting

Sweat Lodge - 20 x 16 - $1520

Abstract Horizon - 4 x 8 - $850

Joe Ben, JR
Native American Navajo Artist

Joe Ben Jr. combines his reservation training with international teaching experience to create exceptional sandpaintings. Even the finest details are created by applying the just the right amount of pulverized pigment from between his curved index finger and thumb to a neutral base of sand below. The degree of control exercised in his movement and distribution of the pigments determines the lines, shapes and effects created. Hand gestures, that mimic the distribution of corn meal in prayer, result in color blending that is just short of miraculous.

Joe Ben's sandpaintings are distinguished by their intensity of color created by using natural materials from throughout the world rather than commercial sands pigmented with color. Lapis (blue) from Afghanistan, diamond(sparkle) from Australia, Galena (silver sparkle) from Morocco, coal (black) from the four corners, gypsum (white) from Cuba, New Mexico, red and gold ochre from the south of France, Azurite and chrysocolla (blue green) from southern Arizona, and a myriad of other greens, browns and reds found on the Hopi and Navajo reservation near his homeland are some of the materials Joe uses in his vibrant paintings.

Sandpainting exemplifies Navajo principals of balance and order. Complimentary paring represents balance between earth and sky, male and female, dusk and dawn, air and water. The symmetry of Joe's sandpaintings focus attention on those fundamental principals of balance, bringing to the viewer a true sense of order in both the physical and spiritual worlds.

Artist Statement:

I aspire to bring the art of the Navajo to the western world. Using forces stored in natural materials such as gold, lapis, azurite, and diamond, Interpret the forces of nature as a contemporary expression of man's place in relationship to the universe.

Selected Awards:

Indian Market, Santa Fe, NM
First, Second, or Third Prizes, 1990-1996, 1984-1988
Best of Division, 1985, 1994, 1996
Special Award for Excellence in Traditional Art, 1993
Gallup Intertribal Indian Ceremonial, Gallup, NM
First, Second, or Third Prizes, 1982-1985


Art Sans Frontiers, Montpelier, France
Crow Canyon Archeological Center, Cortez, CO
Dzidl Asdlaa Olta, (Five Mountain College), Organizer/Director
Ecole des Beaux Arts Superior, Paris France, Guest Professor
The Heard Museum, Phoenix, AZ
Idyllwild School of Music and the Arts, Idyllwild, CA
Museum of Man, San Diego, CA
Pine Hill School, Pine Hill, NM
The Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC
Southwestern Association on Indian Arts. Santa Fe, NM
Wheelwright Museum, Santa Fe, NM


Imaging America - PBS Special
Imaging Arizona - PBS News Magazine
Mystery of the Senses - Vision, Nova PBS Special
American Indian Art Magazine
Beyond Tradition
Ecole des Beaux Arts
Enduring Traditions, Art of the Navajo
Magiciens de la Terre
Southwest Art Magazine
Arizona Highways
The New Mexican
Time Life Books


Ongoing training under Navajo medicine men, apprenticeship for Blessing Way and Enemy Way Navajo ceremonies

Plaza Three Academy, Phoenix AZ
Associate of Arts, Fashion Merchandising & Design, 1987
University of New Mexico, Gallup, NM 1978-1980


Sand paintings, or dry paintings, are the most widely known form of Navajo ceremonial art. Certain authorities believe that the practice was brought to the Southwest by the Navajo and was adopted by the other Pueblo Indians. Other experts believe that sand painting was practiced throughout the Pueblos long before the arrival of the Navajo, and that the Navajo simply adopted and greatly elaborated the technique. There is general consensus, however,that Southwestern sand paintings produced by the Navajo are the most beautiful, and elaborate in terms of technical complexity and range of subject matter.

The Navajo term for sand painting is 'iikááh, "place where the gods come and go." They are pictures made by sprinkling dry sands colored with natural pigments. The purpose of sand paintings is to allow the patient to absorb the powers depicted. The ritualistic process may be likened to osmosis in which the evil in man and the deity penetrate the ceremonial membrane [sandpainting] in both directions.

The pigments used in a sand painting are obtained by collecting colored sandstone which is ground into a fine powder. Anyone who has traveled in the Southwest knows that the cliffs and the hills abound in color; reds, browns, and ochre-yellows. In addition, crushed charcoal is mixed with sand to produce black. Cornmeal, pollen from plants, and pulverized flower petals are also used.

Sandpaintings are oriented with the cardinal directions. If the painting includes a border the border element never completely encircles the picture; the east is deliberately left open to permit entry of those deities who maybe called upon to participate in the ceremony. In Navajo mythology, the gods come from the east, and it is for this reason that one side of the sandpainting is left open, and for the same reason that the doorway of a Navajo house, or hogan, is always oriented toward the east.

Figures seen in sand paintings are often understood to be wearing masks. Because one seldom sees the actual face of the god, deity, or hero, the impersonator of the deity is recognized by the characteristic mask and attire.

The Navajo regard illness, injury, or other serious misfortune as being caused by conscious or unconscious transgressions, which result in disharmony between the individual and the supernatural. The basic purpose of the chants performed by the Navajo singers is to re-establish harmonious relationships with the supernatural beings.

Sandpaintings have only been commercially available since about 1960. Permanent attachment of sand to a board was initiated by David Villasenor who developed a simple "How to Sandpaint" kit intended for schoolchildren. The work itself is a buildup of layers of sand, glued to a flat surface. The quality of a sand painting is determined by the fineness and uniformity of the sand, complexity of the design, and the skill of the artisan producing even, straight, uniform lines.

Particle board is widely used as a base. It is precut to the desired size, edges are smoothed and sanded to a finished look. The entire surface is evenly spread with glue and background sand is applied. When completely dry, a pointed ice pick, or dart is used to etch guides for the design in the background sand. Then, using a fine brush to paint glue lines, the different colors of sand are added one at time. Each color is applied separately to avoid mixing. The sand is pressed into place to assure firm adhesion, and excess sand is removed.

Sand paintings, like other fine art, should be protected from moisture to prevent warping. Sunlight generally will not affect the colors of a sandpainting. A periodic brushing with a soft bristled brush will help remove dust and retain the clarity of the colors.

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