SHIPROCK — Little by little, the image of a Ye'ii Bi Chei dancer began to appear as Myron Denetclaw added detail to a large canvas.

"I like to do Navajo ceremonies," he said, adding that his sketchbook is full of images from ceremonies.

Denetclaw was one of 80 children and teenagers who attended Dahayóígíí: A Navajo Cultural Youth Art Event on Wednesday at Shiprock High School.

At age 14, Denetclaw is already an award-winning artist. Among his honors are the 2012 Best of Show award in the Indian arts youth category at the New Mexico State Fair.

He attended Wednesday's workshop to learn more about painting and to add to his self-taught skills.

Marie Peterson, of Teec Nos Pos, Ariz., works on a tsiiyéél, a traditional hair bun, for Alexia Chee, of Kirtland, on Wednesday at Shiprock High School
Marie Peterson, of Teec Nos Pos, Ariz., works on a tsiiyéél, a traditional hair bun, for Alexia Chee, of Kirtland, on Wednesday at Shiprock High School during an art workshop as part of Dahayóígíí: A Navajo Cultural Youth Art Event. (Jon Austria / The Daily Times)

Dahayóígíí means "the strong ones" in the Navajo language, and the three-day event was organized by Oreland Joe, a world-renowned artist in stone and bronze sculptures. The event started Wednesday and continues through Friday.

"The purpose is to bring back traditional art forms," Joe said. "Our primary purpose is for the children — plant a seed and build some confidence."

After students registered for the event, they selected a medium — ranging from basketry and weaving to beading and sculpture. They then attend classes and produce a piece of artwork that will be shown on Friday.

"Everything is hands-on here. There's no talking about it," Joe said, explaining the event incorporated that idea because academic studies show Native Americans are visual learners.

The event is sponsored by a private foundation, which Joe declined to name, that requested students learn the traditional forms of art.

"All of the presenters here are artists, marketing their own work. They actually are living the artist's life," Joe said.

On Wednesday, Denetclaw was participating in a painting class taught by Navajo painter Keno Zahney. The 18 students in Zahney's class were busy adding designs and colors with acrylic paint to two large canvases.

Marveen Tsosie, right, works on leather braiding on Wednesday at Shiprock High School during an art workshop as part of Dahayóígíí: A Navajo Cultural Youth
Marveen Tsosie, right, works on leather braiding on Wednesday at Shiprock High School during an art workshop as part of Dahayóígíí: A Navajo Cultural Youth Art Event. (Jon Austria/The Daily Times)

"They are allowed to add any color. There are no wrong ones," Zahney said,

After the students finish adding the paint, Zahney plans to add detail or highlight certain designs. Then it will be displayed on Friday.

As part of the event, students are also learning about Navajo culture and tradition.

Marie Peterson, of Teec Nos Pos, Ariz., explained the significance of the tsiiyéél, a hair bun, during a break in classroom instruction.

"As a girl, you don't go around with your hair flowing all over your face," Peterson said. "Tying it helps the Holy People recognize you."

The process of making a tsiiyéél starts with brushing the hair with be'ezhóó, a traditional hairbrush made from grass stems.

"This was picked from the field. It's not from Walmart," Peterson said about the be'ezhóó.

Among the information she shared with the group is that when people brush their hair, they think positive thoughts, and after they wash their hair with yucca root soap, they discard those thoughts when they spill the soap on the ground.

"It's my turn to teach," Peterson said after explaining the teachings she learned from her grandparents, who are deceased.

Other presentations will center on horse therapy, Navajo botany and clanship.

Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636 and nsmith@daily-times.com. Follow her on Twitter @nsmithdt on Twitter.