by Tamra Testerman | March 21, 2022
An articulated life – Diné artist Sheldon Harvey at Chimayo Trading Del Norte
Beyond the creative impulse, some artists explore through their work how they can transmute their talent to serve a higher purpose. For Navajo artist Sheldon Harvey, he seeks to create a bridge with his work toward a universal appreciation and understanding of creation and why we are here, conforming to Dińe cosmogony and folklore.
“In the late 1990s and early 2000, I observed people consumed with wealth and wars, prosperous and poor, getting lost. They didn’t understand or question where they came from. When I started making art, I wanted to bring back traditional values of humanity in my work. We share this planet, and are the same, yet we are unique, and must honour our differences. All creatures have a vocabulary, it’s just expressed differently. My grandfather, Leo Harvey, was a futurist, and a man of few words, but he was wealthy. He told me the secret to real wealth is being with your wife and having children and being close to creation.
Sheldon Harvey was born in 1978 in the small community of Lukachukai near the center of the Navajo reservation, in northeast Arizona. He is a member of the Red Running Into Water Clan of the Diné and was trained as a medicine man by his grandfather and great-grandfather. He knew from an early age he wanted to be an artist
His uncle, Aaron Harvey, taught him to paint. As a young man, he attended Diné College and worked with Don Whitesinger and Tony Abeyta. Harvey said it was the guidance of his grandfather, Leo Harvey, a silversmith, and Videl Nez, at Dine’ College that also became a significant influence and inspiration in his work.
Harvey’s sculptures are made of wood, hand-stained and painted, with feather, yucca and other found natural materials. He paints in acrylics and oils on canvas, creating images of spirits based on the First World Beings in the Navajo Creation Story. In 2008, Harvey drew a triple win from the Santa Fe Indian Market with his sculpture “Twins” winning Best of Classification, and his painting “Trixter Way” was awarded Best of Classification and Best of Show. This is a rare achievement in the history of the Market
Gabriel and Alicia Abrums, the owners of Chimayo Trading Del Norte, said this is a highest honour for a native artist and one of many reasons Gabe approached Harvey over a decade ago to represent him. “His work is the merging of different cultures. There are traditional Navajo themes with very interesting Picasso-like aspects of cubism and expressionism in his metal sculptures, carvings and oil paintings. He is the real deal. His work is in museums and private collections all over the world.” Harvey said he knew when he met Gabe, “I wanted to be a part of Chimayo Trading Del Norte. There has always been a great connection with him. His mind is in a higher place. He talks about his father just as I do and loves his wife and children. There is a profound connection.
Harvey works year round, adjusting for the seasons. He’s up early in the winter months, building a fire in the studio, rolling tobacco, a meditation before work. And in the spring when there is no need for a fire, work begins later in the day. “I don’t sleep. I just rest and pick up the paintbrush to create something unknown. Sometimes it gets emotional because I don’t know what I’ll create or how it will unfold. How do you articulate a life? I paint my spirit. My art is my truth.
Harvey looks forward to the 100-year anniversary of the Indian Market, and the Heard Museum in Phoenix has asked him to build a show with his work, on a grand scale. And he is expecting his first grandchild. “I want to get old and be alive, to have a grandchild and still be in love with my wife. That’s what I want for the future.
Chimayo Trading del Norte has an exceptional collection of Sheldon Harvey’s paintings and sculptures in the gallery. “The new sculptures are mixed media sculptures of wood, metal, sand paints and feathers embody a piece of Navajo folklore channeled through Harvey’s creative spirit. They stand like sentinels, protecting the knowledge of the past, and projecting a silent stoic presence that will carry far into the future.” For visual details, see the Chimayo Trading Del Norte website: chimayotrading.com. Or visit the gallery next to San Francisco de Asís Mission Church, a historic and architecturally significant building on the main plaza of Ranchos de Taos.