People Of The West: Navajo Mountain Portraits

I moved to the Utah Strip of the Navajo Reservation in 1978.  There I lived and taught art as a full time artist in residence through the Utah Arts Council at Montezuma Creek Elementary School in Montezuma Creek, UT.  During that time I befriended KC Benedict, librarian at the community high school. Her husband Dean was the "flying doctor" for Navajo communities in Utah.  He'd fly to many of them and first took me to Navajo Mountain.

I later befriended the family of Stella and Harold Drake and quickly "adopted" them as my grandparents as all of my blood grandparents were dead.  There began a long and loving relationship with the place, space and people of Navajo Mountain that is still providing me with inspiration today.

In the early 1980s, Stella "invited" me to make portraits of Navajo Mountain elders.  She felt they were all passing away and wanted some record of them.  For one long weekend one summer I went to the mountain with my 4x5 camera and some large canvas tarps.  I rigged a studio on the back side of Dr. Benedict's clinic and made portraits of whomever came by.  Stella and Harold had spread the word.  I was totally busy for 3 days.  Keep in mind that most of the people did not speak English and I knew very little Dine'.  These are portraits based in trust and soul contact.  I made small prints for each family and then put that project away.

In early summer of 2015 my friend KC called to say that the San Juan County historical magazine called Blue Mountain Shadows was finally producing an issue on Navajo Mountain (November, 2015) and could they use some of those portraits.  I had to find them first!  I had them scanned and worked them over in PhotoShop.  All of the people in the portraits are deceased, except Stella.  She's in her 90s.  If you go quiet, you can feel the spirit of these fine folks whispering to you to visit the mountain.