FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. — The Namingha Institute was held June 10-15 at the Museum of Northern Arizona in Flagstaff and was made possible by a special endowment by Phil Smith, a supporter of the Namingha family of artists and a collector of their work.
The Navajo-Hopi Observer talked to students who attended the Namingha Institute. While all the students this year who attended were Native, they did not have to be — but the institute also showed them how to respect and celebrate their different cultures.
Orinda Goddard, student
Goddard, 33, is from Centralia, Washington and her primary focuses are basketry with some drawings and paintings. Goddard is an enrolled member of the Chehalis Tribe in Washington. She is part Diné with family from around Window Rock.
Her college advisor asked her to apply for the institute.
“I didn’t even think I was at that level to be applying to something of this nature,” she said. “I do paintings but my masters is in weaving baskets, mats and hats with different fibers from back home.”
Goddard said the Namingha Institute allowed her to get into painting.
“It’s been a blessing and amazing, soaking up from all the artists who are here with us,” she said. “Learning a lot from our master (Bahe) here and learning all the different techniques he uses. Actually collaborating with him on a couple of the pieces here.”
The different shapes in the paintings that were done over the week represent each of the artists and a little of what they brought from their own homes.
“It’s been really good being here and learning, learning a part of my culture that I didn’t know,” she said.
It only took a few days for Goddard to feel confidence in her work and the work of the others at the institute with her.
“I feel really good about this,” she said. “We got to go to [Bahe’s] studio this morning and it was just mind struck. It was just overwhelming. I felt like a little kid in a candy store because you’re learning and grasping on and meeting all these people like Toni (Antoinette Thompson), she’s a role model. She’s like our mom of our group.”
Goddard said the collaboration of all the students really reflects in the pieces they painted.
“That’s bringing the desert and our coastal together, bringing the water and the desert together,” she said. “I’m really looking forward to seeing the end product of that piece.”
Kayla Jackson, student
Jackson, 25, is from Round Rock, Arizona. She is a student at Diné College.
She felt confident that she would be accepted into the program.
“I enjoy Bahe’s work and I knew about him and I wanted to learn all I could,” she said. “I’ve been in school for so long and I needed to get more exposure to an actual master artist, so I was thankful to get this opportunity. I am blessed.”
Jackson said she feels she used her time wisely during the institute.
“You learn a lot from Bahe about hard work and making time for your art work and family time,” she said. “I knew that it was important to incorporate both into your art work because you have to be successful and it’s about balance.”
Jackson will graduate in December with a fine arts degree in photography, which is her main medium. Normally, she takes pictures of her family ranch, cattle and horses.
“I want to document that,” she said. “I want to go around the reservation and showcase that our top quality, ranch style, is something worthy and it’s a lifestyle I want to leave a legacy of. And I want to showcase other peoples’ hard work.”
Photography and painting are different in Jackson’s mind.
“I feel more creative in my photography,” she said. “In painting, I’m still trying to find that realm of engaging my creativity. Because painting is like third nature to me. First comes photography. I’m comfortable drawing but I’m still trying to find that confidence in my painting.”
The confidence has come from just a few days at the Namingha Institute.
“When we do collaborative work, I stop and I look around and I notice the different techniques and ways of the other students that they are applying,” Jackson said. “I process it and I think about it and I think, ‘Ok, I could try that maybe in a different spot.’ And we turn the canvas and we each have a turn or we walk around the whole canvas and we get to have input within the canvas. It’s really neat.”
Krystle Coughlin, student
Coughlin, 35, is a Selkirk First Nation visual artist residing in New Westminster, British Columbia.
Coughlin just finished her master’s degree in fine arts and she wanted experience in new places and new cultures and ways of thinking.
“I may have finished my degree, but I feel like art is something you keep learning,” Coughlin said.
Like other students at the institute, Coughlin already feels the experience has changed her in just the few days, the students were in the institute.
“Collaboration is a huge thing,” she said. “Learning about other people’s cultures and learning how to be respectful of each other. Having time with other people and really challenging what I thought art was. It’s such a great experience. I’ve really learned so much, different painting techniques, different ways of thinking.”
Coughlin said for most of the students, their cultures are a part of who they are and are a large part of their identities.
“It’s really great to be exploring that with other people,” she said. “I’m Dineh Ababascan, so from the Yukon, and we’re like all related. It’s so interesting. It’s almost like I’m learning about my culture, but it’s not.”
In her everyday life, Coughlin mostly works alone, but the institute gave her a chance to work with others, which turned out to be one of her favorite things about the Namingha Institute.
“The collaboration, working with other people,” she said. “I don’t really do that with my artistic practice. I was always kinda of scared about it like, ‘Oh, how am I going to work with this other person?’ Thinking that we’d be butting heads a lot. But I found the opposite. We all want to help each other. We’re all very interested in each other’s work. Other people’s work enhances my work. It’s really interesting.”
Look for part three in next week’s Navajo-Hopi Observer with interviews with master artist Bahe Whitethorne Sr. and Antoinette Thompson, an artist with a large influence on other students in the program.