It’s Day 348 and I am excited about today’s artist that was recommended by my daddy-in-law Andy Lavin. The story of how he acquired his Yellowhair painting is below. Please join me in honoring Robert Yellowhair today!
A full blooded Navajo, Yellowhair was born Aug. 8, 1937 in a hogan at Na-Ah-Tee Canyon, 35 miles north of Holbrook, Arizona. Yellowhair would frequent the trading post with his father, and this was the site of his first art show. Waiting patiently one day he found some colored rock, he began sketching on a nearby wall. His audience was some of the older Navajos, who were giving him advice on every subject he drew. They were his teachers, critics as well as his teachers. Soon he would have to mstand on his horse to reach the blank areas of the barn. Today some of those barn drawings are still visible. In the early 1950’s the trader Charley McGee gave Yellowhair his first watercolor set. A few days later he sold his first painting to McGee for 50 cents.
Considered one of the Navajo nation’s finest painters. His award-winning work is featured in many fine southwestern galleries, and one of his pieces can found in the White House.
The distinguishing hallmark of Yellowhair’s work is the fresh, clean, vibrant color and the intricate detail which gives his paintings a three dimensional quality.
His love of art began at an early age. As a youngster, while waiting for his father outside the trading post, he began sketching on the side of a rusty old tin barn. Soon the entire side of the old building was filled with his sketches.
Yellowhair attended the Carson Indian School in Carson, Nevada, and there fell in love with the paintings of
Charles Russell. He spent hours studying the reproductions and in 1955 began to paint seriously, hoping to someday emulate the man who had impressed him so.
His primary medium is oil on canvas. His style is realistic impressionism and he is very accomplished at this. Yellowhair certainly achieved his goal of emulating his idol.
Here’s a story that my father-in-law (who recommended I do this artist!) sent to me about acquiring his Robert Yellowhair painting.
I am not really an art collector, so buying this painting was an impulse purchase for sure and this story only proves this point.
We had moved to Arizona so I could get my MBA from Arizona State University in the summer of 1976. I had moved out in advance of Ann and the boys in July to set up our new home and get acclimated to Arizona. They joined me later that summer once Matthew was old enough to travel. He was all of 6 weeks old.
Our plan was to for me to complete the degree in a year and then move back to our home in Ohio and find work. But Ann fell in love with Arizona and we decided to sell the Ohio
house and buy a horse property in Scottsdale instead. Of course, I still needed to find work and thankfully, Motorola was willing to give me a chance as a two way radio salesperson. I got a car, health insurance, $11,000 base salary with a potential to make another $5,000 to $10,000 in commissions. I was thrilled.
The good news was that I had a job, the not so good news was my sales territory was 100 miles from my house and covered some of the most unpopulated land in the Northern Arizona. I had to leave our home every Monday early and drive two hours on back country roads just to get to the nearest part of my territory. I stayed in the territory until Thursday evening and then drove home to my family. I remember every turn and bump on that drive. It was beautiful, but could be treacherous especially in the winter. This was mountain country and really in the middle of nowhere.
The most central town with some amenities was Show Low Arizona. This was the quintessential western cowboy town. The name of the town was a result of two ranchers not being able to
decide who should be the mayor so they decided to draw cards with who drew the low card being declared the winner. In other words, “show low” and you win. I did not make this up.
I stayed at one of the two motels in Show Low, the Paint Pony. It was newer, but did not have a restaurant so I ate breakfast and dinner every day at the other motel across the street. Both motels, the bank, one of the gas stations, and several other businesses where owned by the same pioneer family and the matriarch used hang out at the restaurant all the time. She seemed ancient to me, but probably was not much older then 60 and she would tell tales and gossip with all the regulars. Everyone called her Mama.
The motel had a very nice collection of Indian art, baskets, pottery, etc. and I always wondered how such a simple place could have such beautiful things. Then one day as I was eating breakfast an older Indian gentleman walked in with some pottery and went directly to see Mama. She spoke with him briefly, some money changed hands and a few pieces of pottery were added to the collection.
That evening over dinner, I asked Mama about the transaction and she explained that every once in a while one of the Indian artist from the nearly Hopi and Navajo reservation would drop by to offer her some art. She said that they knew to only come if they were willing to give it up for a good price. I told her that I might be interested and could she let me know if such an opportunity came by again. She said she would and I left hoping I could “steal” a great piece of art.
Now I didn’t know anything about Native American art but I had been to the galleries in Scottsdale, and I knew that some
of it brought a very handsome price and it sure looked like the same stuff Mama had in her motel, so I was pretty excited about the prospects. I felt that since I was a regular customer and someone she would see over and over again, that she would not try to play me for a rube, but the thought did cross my mind. Then sure enough, a few weeks later, Mama approached me and let me know that she had heard from an artist who was a little hard up for cash and wanted to sell her some paintings. She told me to be at the restaurant at 8:00 that night and she would introduce me to Robert Yellowhair.
The Navajo and Hope reservations were part of my territory and I even had a famous artist as a customer, Charles Laloma. Charles was a Hopi and so was Robert, so I was hoping for something special. Robert looked the part, kind of big and round with a inscrutable expression.
A man of few words, but nice enough. He showed me four painting and I choose the one you have seen. I asked him to write a description on the back of the painting and to sign it and he
graciously obliged. I gave him some cash. It could not have been much since I didn’t have much at the time, but he seemed satisfied and Mama thought it was a good deal so I was happy.
The painting is probably not worth much, but the experience was special to me. I felt like I became part of a place that I would not likely ever be again and had just a little brush with the history of Arizona.
I hope you enjoy my tribute today and my father-in-law’s lovely story! It was such a challenging painting because Yellowhair’s art is so vibrant and detailed. I’m still contemplating sending a message to him to let him know that I did a tribute…but it always makes me nervous even though I know most people would be honored. I probably will! I will see you tomorrow on Day 349. The countdown begins! Only 17 left…