Mural thanks chapter for its help

By Bill Donovan
Special to the Times
WINDOW ROCK, July 5, 2012

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(Special to the Times - Donovan Quintero)

Shawn Nelson poses in front of the mural he created in the Rock Springs Chapter House in Rock Springs, N.M.


hen Shawn Nelson became a member of the Rock Springs Chapter three years ago, he told chapter officials if there was anything they needed, all they had to do was call on him.

So they did and Nelson came through in a very big way, spending almost a year, off and on, at the chapter painting a mural reflecting chapter and tribal life that he recently completed on one of the walls.

The distinctive mural, which includes everything from scenes honoring the Navajo Nation Council Chamber, native spirituality and Navajo veterans, has become the center of attraction for anyone who visits the small chapter house north of Gallup.

"No other chapter has anything of this expertise," said Tulley Haswood, the chapter's president who said he was "definitely surprised" when Nelson carried through with his promise to help out his new chapter to show his appreciation for a chapter scholarship that was given to him to continue his art education and to help provide grading at his new home-site lease.

"Out of this fairly minimal aid, he has given us a mural that is worth at least $7,000," Haswood said.

Nelson is a well-known artist and sandpainter who has spent the last 40 years honing his craft and producing works that have attracted admirers all over the Southwest.

Along the way, he has become one of the tribe's premier sandpainters and promoters of the art form.

He said the images he portrays in his sandpaintings "are not for ceremonial purposes but instead (are meant) to continue our Native traditions through a more modern approach so the sandpainting will never disappear from my vision to our creator."

During the last few years he has continued his education at the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, N.M., and the University of New Mexico, where he is working to earn a bachelor's degree.

But even while taking art courses, he managed to complete a major sandpainting project for the Chimayo Sanctuary. He now has three large sandpaintings on display there in a section called "The Native American Cenacle."

The mural at the Rock Springs Chapter measures about 4 feet by 16 feet and was done over the past year, Nelson said.

Haswood said Nelson was given a key to the chapter house and while some of the work was done when the chapter was closed, much of it was done when it was open, which allowed community members to follow its progress.

Nelson said his motivation for the mural was to show the chapter his appreciation for all chapter officials have done in the past three years to help him out and to welcome him to the community.

Since he was born and raised in Los Angeles, he has not had the chapter upbringing that many Navajo youth had but he is now involved in chapter life in a big way.

Tony Watchman, the chapter's coordinator, said the response from other chapter members has been positive.

The mural has also attracted the attention of other artists who are members of the chapter, Watchman said, and some are talking about volunteering to add on to the mural in the future.

The chapter plans to dedicate the mural in the near future but so far no date has been selected.