Phenomenally, Sheldon Harvey recently won both Best of Division and Best of Show at Santa Fe Indian Market, in the same year; a singular achievement, even for this award-winning artist. The images he paints and sculpts are his imagined visions of the mythical beings from Navajo culture. He says he “saw” these figures as his grandparents and uncles told the stories. This imposing figure is one of his latest pieces, and demonstrates an evolving style toward more complexity and a richer palette.
This gorgeous piece, an abstraction of a dragonfly kachina, or dancer, is all about water, the source of life and essential for harvests. Therefore, water – especially in the high desert – is a symbol for happiness, good health and prosperity. Dragonflies symbolize water, since they flit above and around waterways. Both water and sun are needed to propagate crops, so in addition to the purples, blues, drops and lines of rain that enrich this gorgeous piece, there is the golden yellow of sunlight, and corn, too.
The tall tablita features a central dragonfly, carved out and painted in watery blue and purple. It is surrounded by circles of various sizes, which represent drops of water, whether from rain, or from a creek, or other waterway. Accents of sun-gold and green, signifying plant life, also enliven the earthy background. More colorful dots decorate the protruding pieces, representing feathers, on the head. Feathers are symbols for prayers, sent up to the heavens on wings of birds. Actual, natural parrot feathers form a vibrantly hued spray in the center.
Parallel wavy lines decorate the face of the figure, signifying rivers and rainfall. Purple, green and gold continue the references to rain, crops and sun. These colors continue on the shoulders and arms, in abstract feather designs and a dragonfly. Each hand holds a nosegay of parrot feathers in compatible hues, which are continued on the striped kilt, which also has a fringe that doubles as vertical rainfall signs. The horizontal stripes, that continue the overall palette, can also be seen as a rainbow.
Every bit of the figure is decorated in various combinations of these lovely colors, in varied shapes. Essentially a work of imagination, it nevertheless features recognizable symbols in hues that are both symbolic and luscious. Celebrating the harmony of nature that is crucial for harvesting crops, it is also an expression of the artist’s enormous talent, and deep appreciation of his culture. Elaborately textured as embroidery, colorful as stained glass, it is compelling as an abstract sculpture as well as an expression of Navajo spiritual lore.