Shonto Begay Biography

Shonto Begay Biography

Dineh’ (Navajo) Painter. Illustrator. Author. Educator

Born in a hogan and raised on Dineh’ land, known as the Navajo Nation, Shonto Begay began professionally writing, illustrating and painting in 1983. His work captures the striking beauties of a traditional Navajo upbringing and the harsh realities of modern reservation life. Represented in galleries and museums worldwide, he was one of 16 children. His mother is a traditional Navajo rug weaver from the Bitter Water Clan and his father was a medicine man born to the Salt Clan. Shonto grew up herding sheep in Kletha Valley, located in Shonto, Arizona. His acrylic paintings are done in a series of small brush strokes that repeat like the words of a traditional Navajo blessing prayer. Images harken heartfelt childhood memories and resonate the constant struggle for balance and harmony with humankind and the Earth.

Shonto’s traditional life of sustainability and prayer helped him endure the brutality of the U.S. government boarding school he was forced to attend as a child away from the loving family sheep camp he was asked to forget. Shonto speaks to audiences of all ages about inspiration and the importance of education and embracing cultural backgrounds. He is making his film debut as the character Cowboy in the upcoming Native-produced "Monster Slayer Project" – a movie about the Hero Twins, key characters in the Dineh’s origin story. A true storyteller, Shonto written and illustrated several books for Scholastic publishers.

Shonto’s art has been exhibited in solo shows at the Museum of Northern Arizona, Arizona State Museum, Utah Museum of Fine Arts, The Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian in Santa Fe, the American Indian Contemporary Arts Museum in San Francisco and Phoenix Art Museum. 

Shonto attended Bureau of Indian Affairs boarding schools all over the Navajo Reservation and high school in Kayenta. He received an Associates of Fine Art degree at the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, and a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from California College of Arts and Crafts. He worked a decade in the 1980s as a National Park Service ranger at Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming and Navajo National Monument in Arizona.


Artist Statement

From a very young age, I found excitement in recreating facets of my universe in varying images. I was inspired and surrounded by Hozho (beauty), including the sounds of songs and healing chants accompanied with stories from elders. I survived boarding school partly because of my spiritual strength and retreat into my drawings. I was always drawing. “Arts Save Lives” is my mantra. “Shonto” in Dineh’ translates to sunlight on water -- a reflection of light on the canyon wall from the flowing water. My journey as an artist is to document my life and the world as I see through the lens I was born with through my Navajo experience while negotiating the modern. I have worn many hats in my life: shepard, BIA Boarding School inmate, cowboy, National Park Service Ranger, Wildfire crew, professional boxing team support, film actor, author and artist. 

Art Dealer Diaries

  • 2014 – Arizona State Museum, Children’s Book Reading and Art Talk
  • 2011 - Heard Museum Signature Artist
  • 2011 - Innocence Project International, Speaker along with Nelson Mandela, Image and Logo Designer, Cincinnati, OH
  • 2010 - First Place - 89th Annual SWAIA Santa Fe Indian Market. Click here to view pictures.
  • 2010 - Best of Division A - Paintings, Drawings, Graphics, and Photography - 89th Annual SWAIA Santa Fe Indian Market. Click here to view pictures.
  • 2010 - Artist of the Year, Heard Museum, Phoenix, Arizona
  • 2010 - Speaker and Demonstrator at the Children's Illustration Show, Heard Museum, Phoenix, Arizona
  • 2010 - Viola Award for the Visual Arts, Coconino County, Arizona
  • 2005-2006 – Flagstaff Symphony Orchestra covers
  • 2009 - Endowment for the Arts, Speaker, Miami FL
  • 2003 - The Marjorie Pierce Avery Award of Excellence in Two Dimensional Art, Southwest Indian Art Fair, Arizona State Museum
  • 2000 - Colorado Plateau Workshop, Flagstaff, Arizona
  • The Mud Pony, Owl award for Illustration in Japan, 1988
  • 2021 "New Works" Solo Show, Mark Sublette Medicine Man Gallery, Tucson, AZ
  • 2019 "New Works" Group Show, Mark Sublette Medicine Man Gallery, Tucson, AZ
  • 2019 "Along the Distant Mesa: An Homage to Maynard Dixon" Mark Sublette Medicine Man Gallery, Tucson, AZ
  • 2017 "25th Anniversary Celebration" Mark Sublette Medicine Man Gallery, Tucson, AZ
  • 2015 “7C’s of Arizona: Copper, Cattle, Cotton, Citrus, Climate, Cactus, Canyons” Phoenix Airport Museum, AZ
  • 2013-2014 - Arizona State Museum, Tucson, AZ
  • 2013 "Bierstadt to Warhol: American Indians in the West" Utah Museum of Fine Art
  • 2013 Solo Show, Mark Sublette Medicine Man Gallery, Santa Fe, NM
  • 2011 “Animal Magnetism” John Michael Kohler Arts Center
  • 2011 Plein Air on the Rim, Kolb Studio, Grand Canyon, AZ
  • 2011 Solo Show, Mark Sublette Medicine Man Gallery, Santa Fe, NM
  • 2010 Solo Show, Mark Sublette Medicine Man Gallery, Santa Fe, NM
  • 2006-Present - Mark Sublette Medicine Man Gallery, Indian Market, Santa Fe, NM
  • 2009 - Farmington, NM
  • 2009 - 1st Annual Rock the Canyon Community Celebration, Headliner, Shonto, AZ
  • 2009 - Geronimo Remembered: A Retrospective 100 Years After His Death, Mark Sublette Medicine Man Gallery, Tucson, AZ
  • 2007 - Arizona: A Millennium of Arizona Art, Mark Sublette Medicine Man Gallery, Tucson, AZ
  • 2002 - IAIA Museum
  • Walk the Line, Santa Fe Indian Market
  • The Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian, Santa Fe, NM
  • American Indian Contemporary Arts' Museum, San Francisco, CA
  • Phoenix Art Museum, Arizona
  • Native American Art, May/June 2021, feature article
  • Western Art Collector, May 2021, feature article
  • Western Art Collector, November 2019
  • Western Art Collector, June 2019, "Meeting the Rising Sun" by John O'Hern
  • "Maynard Dixon's American West: Along the Distant Mesa" by Mark Sublette, 2018
  • Live!, Flagstaff, AZ, 1997 - present
  • Western Art and Architecture, October/November 2018
  • Native American Art, October/November 2018
  • Western Art Collector, August 2018
  • Native American Art, June/July 2018
  • Western Art Collector, December 2017
  • Western Art Collector, March 2017
  • Western Art Collector, July 2016
  • Western Art Collector, March 2014
  • Western Art Collector, October 2013
  • Canyon Road Arts, 2007 – 2013, 5 annual issues
  • Santa Fean, August/September 2013
  • Western Art Collector, August 2013
  • Western Art Collector, April 2013
  • Western Art and Architecture, February / March 2013
  • Western Art Collector, August 2012
  • Western Art Collector, August 2011
  • Southwest Art, August 2011
  • Western Art Collector, March 2011
  • Western Art Collector, February 2011
  • Western Art Collector, September 2010
  • New Mexico Magazine, August 2009
  • Visual Chant: The Paintings of Shonto Begay, San Juan College Art Gallery
  • Western Art Collector, August 2008
  • Western Art Collector, Premiere Issue 2007
  • 2009, 2012, 2015, 2016, 2017
  • XFuns, Interview, Japan, 2007
  • Trend Frames Art, April 2007
  • Flagstaff Symphony Orchestra, Cover painting, 2003-2007
  • Native Peoples, “Creative Journeys,” 2004
  • Arts and Living, Mural, Sierra Club, Arizona Ethnobotanical Research Association and the Black Mesa Trust, 2004
  • Warrior’s Voice, Interview, 2002
  • IAIA Museum Exhibition, Cover painting, 2002
  • Memo, Japan, 2001
  • Arizona Daily Sun, 2001
  • Arizona Highways, Cover painting and Illustrations for “Sacred Gift” 2001
  • Jackson Hole News, 2000
  • The Sunday Journal, August 19, 2001
  • Navajo Hopi Observer, 1999
  • Plateau Journal, 1997-1998
  • The Daily Times, 1997
  • Indian Artist, “Talking with Shonto Begay,” 1997
  • Time Machine, 1996
  • The Magic of Spiderwoman, 1996
  • Navajo: Visions and Voices Across the Mesa, 1995
  • Instructor: The Whole Teacher’s Handbook, 1995
  • West University Sun, 1995
  • Scholastic: Multicultural Books, 1994-1995
  • Phoenix Home and Garden, January 1994
  • Book Links, “The Inside Story” July 1992
  • Mali and Cousin Horned Toad, 1991
  • The Mud Pony, Owl award for Illustration in Japan, 1988
  • Plateau Journal