By Melissa Silver (Diné)
April 2, 2022—The warm smell of burning firewood wafted around us as we stepped out of the car. The cool still morning and chirping birds greeted us as we entered the building of the Ancestral Rich Treasures of Zuni (ARTZ) which houses silver and turquoise jewelry and is adorned with colorful paintings all created by Zuni artists. We were welcomed by Daryl Shack, Zuni master artist in drawing, and Abby Webb, grant writer for the Southwestern Indian Polytechnic Institute (SIPI). This drawing workshop for students and community members was a year in the making, from concept to in-person teaching, and was free to community members. With 40 years of experience in drawing, Daryl Shack focuses on Zuni culture and what speaks to him as an artist. His drawings include ceremonial dancers drawn again soft adobe structures, women wrapped in traditional Zuni blankets and looking over their homeland, and Zuni symbols.
After a round of introductions from participants, we received our first assignment: a five-minute exploration into what speaks to us, using two mediums of our choice, in any color. Drawings ranged from pristine pottery-style depictions of wildlife to landscapes of reservation homelands to sketches of silver jewelry.
This exploration coaxes the artist within to quickly step out. There was no need to stare at a blank sheet of paper, wondering what subject to draw, what colors to choose, or the feeling I wanted to convey – all of which went against my grain of study, but allowed for artistic movement and meditation.
Next was an exercise in free form, to let our pen fall anywhere on the paper and without picking up the pen, create a cityscape. The thing about art is it’s like journaling, as true emotions begin to manifest from the page. That said, my drawing of the city was discombobulated, dark, and congested. My drawing revealed how difficult it is for my heart to be in the city. This exercise was also therapeutic as it uncorked my thoughts and feelings. Art is therapy.
Our next study focused on movement. We were asked to capture a scene in our mind in our daily experience of a person that signifies love for us. Here, we plumbed emotions within to create a moment of remembrance and honor of the person we dearly love. My drawing was of my mother kneading dough for fry bread. Another artist drew a Navajo woman herding sheep.
Our last exploration was shading from white to black and the grayscale in between–a reminder that drawing is dimensionality and life. Shack discussed the importance of being a Native American artist and the awareness this entails in our art. There is sacredness and respect in the subject and in the person. Part of Shack’s philosophy is that drawing can uphold a person. Therefore, the strength of the person is maintained, and therefore a certain aspect of the Zuni culture is maintained.
As a Native American artist, there is also an awareness of what not to draw, which is left to sacred experience.
Our workshop ended with gratitude. We received our first drawing, beautifully framed, to emphasize Shack’s teaching to value what speaks to us, to value how drawing maintains those we love, and to value the practice and philosophy that art is medicine.
The Early Afternoon by Daryl Shack, Zuni
Ancestral Rich Treasures of Zuni (ARTZ) building
Noreen Simplicio, Zuni artist
Bridget Skenadore (Diné), Program Officer, Native Arts and Culture, American Indian College Fund
Melissa Silver (Dinè), TCU Programs Assistant, American Indian College Fund