5/25/2023 - 8/2023

Where the Two Came to Their Father

Where the Two Came to Their Father exhibits the eighteen silkscreen prints from a portfolio preserving art from a Navajo war ceremony.

This series takes its title from the Navajo creation myth, a richly symbolic legend which the Navajo people incorporated into the blessing ceremony for tribe members headed into battle. The drawings depict a nine-day, nine-night ceremony.

The legend recounts the birth of twin heroes, Monster Slayer and Child Born of Water, and how they traveled to the House of the Sun to find their supernatural Father before returning to earth stronger and wiser. The myth speaks not only to creation, but also to kindness, death, and deception. The ritual embodying the story is seen to impart a divine sense of power to the warrior. Dating back several hundred years, it was performed by medicine men to prepare those going to war and those left behind.

Jeff King was one of the most respected medicine men on the Navajo Reservation in the first half of the 20th century. King, whose Navajo name was Haska-zilth-e-yah, served in the U.S. Army as a scout and was buried in Arlington Cemetery when he died in 1964. Though he never learned to write or speak English, he is remembered for his efforts to preserve Where the Two Came to Their Father, which had been largely forgotten by the early 1900s.

Having observed the rite during World War II, when Native Americans were drafted into the U.S. military for the first time, ethnologist Maud Oakes recorded the legend and made reproductions of the beautiful ceremonial sand paintings given to her by Jeff King. Oakes spent three years on the Navajo Reservation, during which time she copied in gouache on deer hide the original paintings executed in sand, pollen, corn mean, and ground flowers. The screenprints exhibited here are based on her gouache copies. The prints were included in a portfolio with text written by Oakes and an additional commentary by Joseph Campbell and was first published in 1943.

The portfolio was a gift of Anne d’Harnoncourt and Joseph Rishel to the Berman Museum of Art’s permanent collection in 2022.