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FARMINGTON — While he has since gone on to own his own gallery, Ambrose Teasyatwho remembers how difficult it was when he began his career as an artist and didn't have anybody to show him the ropes — either creatively or business wise, he said.

"Everything I did, I've done on my own," he said.

Since then, he's been determined to help young Native artists avoid the same hurdles he faced, mentoring them and even showcasing their work at his Teasyatwho Gallery at 119 S. Main Ave. in Aztec. The latest beneficiary is a 17-year-old Farmington High School senior whose work caught Teasyatwho's eye via social media.

"I was looking through Facebook, and I came across this girl trying to sell some sketches she had made," Teasyatwho said of Samantha Willden. "It took off from there."

Teasyatwho invited Willden to show her ink drawings at his gallery, and once Willden realized he was serious, she said she couldn't wait to take him up on his offer.

"I was excited and nervous — and surprised," she said of Teasyatwho's offer. "At first, I didn't know who he was. But after a while, I figured out, 'Oh, this is the real deal.'"

Willden's show at the gallery opened Aug. 28. She said sketching has always been a part of her life.

"Since I was a kid, when I was old enough to pick up a pencil," she said, describing how long she's been at it.

She's advanced to this level with no formal training, explaining that she hasn't even taken any art classes at FHS, though she does plan to take dual-credit art classes through San Juan College in the spring. She grew up in an artistic family, with an aunt who draws and her late father also was an artist.

Teasyatwho said the imagery featured in some of Willden's work allowed him to infer that she was struggling with an emotional setback.

I asked her, 'Did you lose a loved one?'" he said, explaining that the Navajo teen replied that she had, in fact, recently lost her dad.

Teasyatwho hopes the opportunity he is providing Willden to broaden her artistic horizons helps her find a way to come to terms with that. He believes she has a considerable amount of talent and intends to do what he can to nurture it.

"I respect ink because it's something you put down and can't erase," he said. "It's freehand. I have done some of that, and it's a challenge. Some people have got it, some don't. This young lady's got it."

Willden's show at Teasyatwho's gallery features five framed pieces, the cost of which was covered by a N.A.T.I.V.E. Project grant. But Teasyatwho encouraged her to include some of her other sketches, as well, and not worry about how they were presented.

Willden wound up including eight drawings in the show. Among the most striking are "Break Free" and "Skulletric."

She described "Break Free" as an anatomically correct heart set atop a rope that is broken and frayed at both ends.

"It represents how everyone has things tying them down, but everyone has to let them go and be free," she said.

"Skulletric," which features a ram's skull set amid a geometric pattern, is far less symbolic, she said..

"That was just an original idea," she said. "There's no significant theme."

Willden said she was enjoying the experience of talking to visitors about her work at last week's opening and looks forward to having more experiences like that. She plans to graduate in May, then go to college and earn a degree in psychology while also taking art classes with an eye toward making a living from her sketches someday.

Teasyatwho said there's a strong likelihood that will happen if Willden sticks with it. He said she already has advanced to a skill level he would expect to see from someone with an art degree, but he thinks she also needs to receive an education in the business side of art in order to be successful at it.

"At this time, she's halfway there," Teasyatwho said. "I think she will definitely leave a mark with her name."

Willden's work will remain on display at the gallery through the end of September.

Mike Easterling is the A&E editor for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4610 and measterling@daily-times.com. Follow him@measterlingfdt on Twitter.

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