Artist Spotlight: Andy Tsinajinie
“His watercolors [. . . ] show his intense love of that strange corner of the west where the Navajos live.” Arizona Highways Dec 1951
“He sees it in all its grandeur, in bold, vibrant colors. His people are romantic nomads, the fabric of whose lives is inextricably woven into vistas of sand and stone, canyon and cliff, sun and storm. If the artist’s mission is the quest of the beautiful, Andy Tsihnahjinnie succeeds as an artist,” pines a 1951 Arizona Highways feature.
While his world was not quite as idyllic as a fifties lifestyle magazine might suggest, Navajo artist Andy Tsinajinie filtered the Indian experience through the colorful lens of children’s illustrations and government supported murals.
A man of many talents (and many names - more on that later), Andy Tsinajinie honed his illustration style at the Santa Fe Indian School. Under the tutelage of Dorothy Dunn, Tsinajinie and contemporaries like Harrison Begay and Tonita Lujan developed a flat painting style modeled after ledger drawings and prehistoric petroglyphs. While Dunn’s preference for a two dimensional pictoral style was controversial, The Studio at the Santa Fe Indian School gave many budding Native artists their first taste of a structured classroom setting.
Tsinajinie was a spirited and defiant child with a tendency to run away from school, and subsequently, was sent to board at Fort Apache and Santa Fe. During WWII, he served in the Air Force, and later studied at Oakland College of Arts and Crafts. Andy Tsinajinie was a father to seven children and passed away in 2000.
Yazzie Bahe, or “Little Grey,” was Andy Tsinajinie’s Navajo (Diné) name. Throughout his art career, he employed various spellings of his last name including Van Tsinahjinnie, Van Tsinajinnie, Van Tsinajinie, Tsinajinnie, Tsinajinie, Tsinahjinnie.