Wallace N. Begay was born and raised at Tolani Lake, AZ just east of the San Francisco Peaks. Begay herded sheep as well as tended the family’s cattle and horses. Begay was born in 1957 during the early stages of the modernization of the Navajo reservation. Like many other Navajo kids, Begay attended a BIA Boarding school at Leupp, AZ. During his immersion in the English culture, Begay began to draw using charcoal, pencil and eventually watercolors. Quincy Tahoma and Harrison Begay had achieved prominence in Indian art with their flat “Bambi” style of paint application. Many young Navajo artists emulated this technique, including Begay. However, Begay gradually began experimenting with texture created by charcoal. When Begay left Boarding School for High School at Windowrock, he had a substantial amount of training in the use of graphite, charcoal and watercolors. Art classes at Windowrock opened new avenues of art in acrylic and oil painting, etching basic sculpture. Begay won many awards and began to sell his pieces.
After High School, Begay attended college at Arizona State University where he was noted for his watercolor paintings. Begay left ASU temporarily and graduated from Maricopa Community College with an AA degree. Again, his art won student art shows. He later finished his studies in marketing at ASU. Begay worked as an Art Director for a feature magazine called “Navaho”. Shortly after that, Begay returned to college at the University of Arizona in Tucson where he was a senior majoring in painting and sculpture.
Awards: Begay has won several first prize awards beginning in 1982 at Gallup New Mexico’s Inter-Tribal Ceremonial Art Show, including one for pencil during the 1996 show. He has also won best in oil and watercolor categories at the Museum of Northern Arizona’s Navajo Show. Begay has won numerous recognition awards from the city of Gallup, New Mexico, University of Arizona Navajo County Fair and the Affiliation of Arizona Indian Centers, Inc. of Phoenix, AZ. Begay’s work has been featured in publications such as ENDURING TRADITION: Art of the Navajos by Lois and Jerry Jacka.
Art Style and Philosophy: “The perpetuation of the Navajo language and culture is important. I believe Native Americans have yet to see their true place in the modern art world as Chagall, Rivera O’Keffee, or Dali. My images are more surrealistic: realistic images in a deliberate dreamscape. I use traditional symbols to talk about the erosion of our culture but only to draw attention, discussion and hopefully resolution. I use painting, scratch board etching, graphite, wood and stone to express these ideas. Being a Native American artist of my generation carries a responsibility of communicating with the younger generations. They look to us for answers and inspiration. If we project the same clinched images, and worry only about the marketability on our art, we will fail. Our responsibility is to teach and carry on the culture, to replace our elders, but in this case, with the education of modern America.” W.N. Begay