Artist crusades against climate change


Men move large mural-sized art.

Navajo Times | Ravonelle Yazzie
Artist Shawn Nelson and a helper move one of his sand paintings into place.

Shawn Nelson is on a crusade to remind people how important climate is to their lives. And he’s doing it like he usually does – in a series of sand paintings dealing with climate issues.

“I started this project back in 2009,” he said, adding that he introduced the first sand paintings in the project back in 2014 in Long Beach, California. “I had been traveling on the road back then and thinking about recycling after I saw how much material people were wasting,” he said.

As a Navajo and especially as one who valued traditional beliefs, the idea of wasting what Mother Earth provides stirred within him a lot of emotions. But instead of giving speeches, urging people to clean up their act, he decided to create a series of sand paintings that spoke for him.

Now, after three years of putting the ideas into sand paintings, his project measures 24 feet by 8 feet and when it is done, hopefully in the next couple of years, it will be twice that big. His project can be seen locally at the Octavia Fellin Public Library, he said. He was asked to show the artwork in early November and was scheduled to take it down at the end of the month. “They have now asked to keep it another month,” he said.

Nelson, who is known as Turquoise Man, is not your typical Navajo artist doing works that highlight Navajo landscapes or Navajo people, animals or other well-known images. He hopes his works create a sense of wonder and make people, both Indian and non-Indian, pause for a moment or two and think about what he is trying to say.

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Categories: Arts

About Author

Bill Donovan

Bill Donovan has been writing about the Navajo Nation government since 1971 and for the Navajo Times since 1976. He is currently semi-retired and is living in Torrance, California, and continues to report for the Navajo Times.