Bringing color, pride to communities: Horned Toad Cheii mural art bring color and pride to communities
Splashing paint from left to right, Daniel Josley, Diné, reconnects with his culture, community and grandfather through painting.
As a child, Josley was always with his grandfather. He ran around in the canyons of Shonto, encountering horned toads.
His grandfather would greet the horned toad like a family member, say a prayer and ask for protection.
In 2014, Josley’s grandfather passed away and he started taking off with his friends.
Until he picked up a paper and pencil and started to sketch. By the afternoon of March 25, 2015, he had sketched a portrait of his grandfather.
“I was doing it by memory and it just kind of brought back my childhood memories,” Josley said. “The fun I had in, you know, with my artistic abilities. And so I started posting on Facebook and social media turned into this gateway for me to support my family, which I never thought about before.”
Paintings after paintings, Josely found himself supporting his family by paying rent and keeping up with truck payments. Before Josely had struggled in North Dakota as an oil field worker trying to make a living wage to support his family.
With the support of over 4,000 social media members on Josley’s Persistence Art Gallery Facebook page, and customers, Josley decided to move his family back to Shonto where he was raised by his grandparents.
At the time, Josley was only creating paintings on canvas, buying his supplies at Walmart and small trade stores. He would stay with his kids and sell at flea markets while his wife worked.
Aware of his creative and artistic talent as a child, it did not occur to Josley to pursue art with a passion, let alone murals.
“I guess it’s when I came back to where I live in Shonto, you know, driving around the area, everything was a canvas, and I started to look at all these water tanks and abandoned buildings that were tagged on and there was profanity,” he said.
“It made me want to do more with what I had,” he said, “so I guess that’s what inspired me to do my first mural. It was a horned toad and lighting god.”
The horned toad and lighting god was a spark for Josley.
“I started waking up with ideas and I just had to load up all my stuff and figure out what I am going to do next on a large scale,” said Josley, who is self-taught.
Josley’s murals caught the eye of Chip Thomas, from Shonto, a mural artist who creates large-scale wheat-past photographs of the Navajo people on walls to highlight the social and environmental injustice all over the reservation as part of the Painted Desert Project.
Thomas introduced Josley to clients and other artists from all over the world through the Painted Desert Project, where he learned different techniques and styles to use in his murals.
Josley has completed 52 murals ranging from 5-by-5 feet to 160-by-18 feet all over the reservation with another 40 lined up in the future.
The Utah Navajo Health Services is one of his big clients and commissioned five murals with more on the way.
“The clinic itself wanted to showcase that fact that’s it not only a clinic, but a community-based center,” said Pete Sands, with public relations for the service in Montezuma Creek, Utah, “where you can come, not just for your physical well-being but also for their mental well-being.
“I figured the arts is something I have not explored yet,” he said.
Sands wanted to promote a local artist and a person who would bring color back to life.
“The mural he painted on the water tank, I wanted it to represent our area,” Sands said. “When he first drew that horned toad, people saw that and there’s a sense of pride, especially during the pandemic, when everything was down and depressing.”
Josley’s passion to express himself through painting is a way to retell the stories of him and his grandfather.
“Each painting I make of a horned toad is a way for to me to reconnect with my history, my culture, and with my grandfather, where I came from and who I am to this day,” he said. “So I liked to thank my grandfather for that.”
Josley is Reed People Clan, born for Near the Water. His maternal grandfather is Zuni Edgewater and paternal grandfather is Red Running into Water.
You can follow Persistence Art Gallery Facebook page to see his current work.