From painting to beadwork: Youth art program returns to Shiprock

Noel Lyn Smith
Farmington Daily Times

SHIPROCK — Some lessons that Sophie John learned while weaving a Navajo ceremonial basket for the first time were keeping the sumac stems damp and having patience.

She added that it takes muscle to use an awl to coil and bind the stems.

"That's why my thumb is achy," she said.

John, 11, was among the fifth to 12th grade students attending Dahayoigii A Youth Art Event on July 13 at the Shiprock Youth Complex.

The three-day program, which takes place during the summer, started on July 12. It is returning to in-person classes after pausing because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Students work on their paintings at Dahayoigii A Youth Art Event 2022 on July 13 at the Shiprock Youth Complex.

Enrollment topped 100 students before the pandemic, but with COVID-19 cases persisting and the Navajo Nation under moderate to low restrictions on public gatherings, program organizers scaled down the number of participants this year and limited classes to basketry, sculpture, painting, beadwork and sandpainting.

Despite the modifications, organizers hope students' creativity and talent are furthered in lessons taught by professional and renowned artists.

"It really is wonderful to have the program back, to see our young ones who have been through a lot the last two years," Ali Garcia-White, the program's administrator and director, said.

At left, Sophie John works next to basketry instructor, Agnes Gray, during the class on Navajo ceremonial baskets at Dahayoigii A Youth Art Event 2022 on July 13 at the Shiprock Youth Complex.

She added that the program, which is operated by the Sacred Youth Foundation in Kirtland, provides space for participants to use art to express their thoughts about the pandemic.

Although the event was not held last year, the program distributed art kits to youth in New Mexico, Colorado, Oklahoma, Montana and South Dakota, she said.

Garcia-White added that some of the students attending this year are previous participants.

"It's a reunion," she said. "They've grown. Some have been coming here since 2014. It's been heartwarming to be with them again."

Evan Stephenson works on his Navajo ceremonial basket at Dahayoigii A Youth Art Event 2022 on July 13 at the Shiprock Youth Complex.

Among those who came back to the program is Evan Stephenson.

In previous summers, Stephenson, 15, took classes in sandpainting and in sculpture but this year he enrolled in basketry.

"The effort and strength you need to put into it," he said, were lessons learned.

Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636 or by email at

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