Photography
© Ely Abrums and Laura Walker

Mamie Deschillie (1920-2010)

Mamie Deschillie  was one of the most widely acclaimed of contemporary Navajo folk artists. Her first artistic pieces were sun baked mud toys like those she made as a child, fashioned at the request of Farmington trader Jack Beasley. She dressed them in scraps of cloth and painted watercolor details. The toys earned her immediate notice for her innovative and imaginative creativity.

Since that beginning, her folk art has expanded to include cardboard collages, cardboard cut-out figures dressed in flea market finery, and watercolor paintings on cardboard. Her images and figures range from familiar reservation scenes to esoteric animals she has seen only in her mind’s eye or in illustrated children’s books. The child-like sense of fun evident in her work may be partly due to the time she spent volunteering to accompany Navajo children on the school buses.

Mamie was born in 1920 in the small sheep-herding community of Burnham, New Mexico. She was a very traditional Navajo lady who dresses in velvet, wears fine silver and turquoise jewelry and speaks only Navajo. She lived in the Fruitland area of the Navajo Nation.

Mamie was prominently featured in two volumes about Navajo folk art:   Anii Anáádaalyaa ‘igii; Continuity & Innovation in Recent Navajo Art, Wheelwright Museum and Navajo Folk Art; the People Speak, by Chuck and Jan Rosenak.

Her works are collected eagerly and displayed in museum exhibits such as the Heard and the Wheelwright.  The Museum of American Folk Art in New York City displayed them in a traveling exhibit in 1993.  Her folk art was included in the Collection de l’art brut in Lausanne, Switzerland.  She was also represented in the national tour Lost and Found Traditions: Native American Art 1965-1985.

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