Navajo sandpaintings, even though one of the most popular forms of Navajo art, were not created to be art but rather a part of a sacred healing ritual or ceremony performed by medicine men. Also known as dry paintings, sandpaintings meant “places where gods come and go” in the native Navajo language. While a traditional sandpainting is meant to be created and destroyed in a day, since the 1940s, the Navajos have created permanent paintings for public display, albeit with altered designs to protect and maintain their religious significance. Here are some of the important characteristics of these paintings:
Purpose of the paintings
As mentioned earlier, sandpaintings are a part of healing ceremonies in which the people prayed to the gods to bless and heal the sick. Up to 12 medicine men would work on a painting and after it was complete, the person who needed to be healed would sit on top of it. It was believed that the painting acted as a portal for the spirits to come and heal the person. Since they go back to the painting after removing the illness, it is believed that the illness is contained in the painting, which is why it is destroyed in a bid to get rid of the illness.
There are also occasions such as births and marriages when blessings are offered through the paintings.
Materials used for creating the paintings
While the name suggests that sand is used to create these beautiful paintings, the medicine men make use of various other materials as well. Colored sand is the primary material but apart from that, ground rocks and crystals, roots, cornmeal, and flower pollen are also used. They are poured over a flat surface, whether it is the floor of a hogan, cloth sheet, or buckskin, to create intricate patterns and designs.
The five sacred colors of the Navajos are used to make the sandpaintings. Four colors, namely blue, yellow, black, and white, represent the four sacred mountains as well as the four cardinal directions. Apart from them, red is also frequently used and it symbolizes the spiritual life and sunshine.
While these paintings have a deep sacred significance in Navajo culture, they have also served as an inspiration for numerous artists. Now, you can find everyday products, such as Navajo coin purses, with designs that are inspired by the paintings. Check out an assortment of such products with Navajo art, including Navajo coin purses, only at Navajo Artist.