Economic Aspects of Navajo Sandpaintings

Author: Nancy J. Parezo (University of Arizona)

  • Economic Aspects of Navajo Sandpaintings


    Economic Aspects of Navajo Sandpaintings



Permanent sandpaintings, pictures of pulverized colored sands glued onto particle board, are made by the Navajo Indians of the American Southwest, specifically for sale to non-native consumers. This art form has experienced a widespread growth since 1958. By 1965 its production had become an important source of income for at Jeast one community, Sheep Springs, New Mexico, as well as for many other individuals both on and off the reservation. Today almost 500 makers can be identified and while the industry is not yet comparable in size to weaving or silversmithing it is by no means negligible. Why has the spread of this craft art been so rapid and widespread? The following paper will begin to analyze some of the reasons for the craft's success. Motivating factors for beginning to paint should be especially evident because the development of sandpaintings from their traditional prototype involved a functional transition from the sacred realm to the secular. While little has been written about these specific transitions when native art forms are commercialized, they are by no means unique. Zuni fetishes, Hopi kachina rattles, Northwest Coast masks, Iroquois false-face masks, as well as various ceremonial containers, and parts of ceremonial costumes are manufactured specifically for sale to non-natives. At times this commercialization is opposed by nativecommunity members who feel it is a breach of taboo. It is assumed that if such is the case, there must be good reasons for the artist to break taboos and possibly incure supernatural wrath. An analysis of the motivating factors leading to the commercialization of Navajo sandpaintings should give some insight as to why native peoples selectively commercialize forms of their sacred art.

Keywords: Navajo, Sandpainting

How to Cite: Parezo N.J., (1981) “Economic Aspects of Navajo Sandpaintings”, Atlatl 2.

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Published on
01 Jan 1981
Peer Reviewed