Harrison Begay (Haskay Yahne Yah, “Warrior Who Walked Up to His Enemy”) (November 15, 1914 – August 18, 2012) was a renowned Navajo painter, perhaps the most famous of his generation.
Harrison Begay was born as Bert Begay in White Cone, AZ on the Navajo reservation, to Black Rock and Zonnie Tachinie Begay. His mother belonged to the Zuni White Corn Clan, and his father was Walk Around Clan / Near Water Clan.
Harrison Begay at age 89
He was raised traditionally; speaking Navajo, living in a hogan, and herding his family’s sheep and goats. He would often draw while herding sheep. When he was about eight, Harrison left to attend a government boarding school. He changed his name to Harrison at this time. It was at school that Harrison learned to speak English.
In 1933, Harrison entered the Santa Fe Indian School to study art under Dorothy Dunn (1903–1990) in her new Studio School. He was one of Dunn’s star students. His classmates included Gerald Nailor, Quincy Tahoma, Geronima Montoya and Andrew Tsihnahjinnie.
"War Dance". Beautiful silk screen (serigraph)
Following art school, Harrison attended college and then enlisted in the U.S. Army during World War II. Begay served in the US Army Signal Corps from 1942 to 1945.
During his service, Harrison was assigned to communications, and served in Normandy, Germany, France, and Iceland. He was wounded in France while setting up a communications line. After being shot, he fell from the telephone pole, and down a 300 ft. canyon cliff. A tree broke his fall and saved his life. Eight months later after recuperating from a broken back and bones in an English hospital, he was released from duty.
After returning from the service, Begay became one of the first Native American artists to support himself by painting full-time.
Harrison Begay at work
Begay specialized in watercolors and silkscreen prints. His most familiar subjects are Navajo people in ceremonial and daily life, horses and riders, and deer.
In recognition of his contributions to Native American art Begay was awarded the French government’s Palmes Académiques in 1954.
In the 1960s Begay met General Eisenhower, who he served under, at the annual Ceremonials in Gallup, New Mexico. At that time Harrison presented General Eisenhower with one of his paintings which is in a permanent collection in Washington, D.C.
"Hoop Dance" Beautiful silk screen (serigraph)
His work has been included in a vast number of public and private collections of Native American art, including the Museum of the American Indian, the Museum of Modern Art, the Museum of Northern Arizona, the Heard Museum, the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture, the Wheelwright Museum, the Southwest Museum, the Philbrook Museum, the Gilcrease Museum, and many more.
Begay won two grand awards at the Gallup Intertribal Ceremonial and has been a consistent winner at state and tribal fairs. In 1995, he was awarded the Native American Masters Award by the Heard Museum. In 2003, he won the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Southwestern Association for Indian Arts, the organizers of the annual Santa Fe Indian Market.
Original watercolor by Harrison Begay.
Close up of original watercolor by Harrison Begay.