Community Artist Builds on Talent at Namingha Institute

Kyle Knox

Gila River Indian News


This Summer’s 2021 Namingha Institute featured five Native American artists from around the region, including District 5 Casa Blanca member Melissa Yazzie, from Casa Blanca. The annual two-week institute helps non-Native artists build on their talents and explore new mediums and techniques.


Held from June 3 to June 17 this year at the Museum of Northern Arizona (MNA) in Flagstaff, the residency allowed Yazzie and others to study for two weeks under internationally acclaimed Master artists Dan and Arlo Namingha, members of the Hopi and Tewa tribe.


Yazzie, who called the Insitute a “once in a lifetime experience,” said her love for art developed early in life. Starting with simple sketches, Yazzie gradually advanced to watercolor and acrylic painting and digital artwork. She also has designed various event-themed logos.


Yazzie’s art adorns numerous Community settings, including Casa Blanca Community School, Blackwater Community School, and the Puente Human Rights Movement headquarters. She has earned numerous accolades for her artwork, which has been displayed in museums across the state. 


Even so, Yazzie described herself as hesitant to apply for the Institute, which draws applicants of various backgrounds and skill levels and requires art school experience. 


“It goes to show that with all my hard work and consistency with painting, eventually Dan Namingha saw my work and decided to work with me,” said Yazzie. 


Yazzie says the residency allowed her to grow in ways she didn’t expect by experimenting with other art mediums, learning from other artists, and working one on one with the Master Artist instructors. 


“Dan Namingha would pull me aside to suggest new techniques to help me … (and) pushing me to be more open-minded with my artwork, without restrictions,’ said Yazzie. She said this gave her a “refreshing” sense of freedom, one that allowed her to build on her talents, learning rather than striving for perfection. 


The institute – sponsored in part by the Philip M. Smith Trust – culminated with an artist installation showcasing work from the two weeks spent at MNA and celebrating the five resident artists’ accomplishments. 


Yazzie described the Institute as reinvigorating her love for art. She hopes to share her teachings with developing artists and by using her renewed spirit to create new art for the Community.


“You art matters, nomatter what. Continue your desire to create, work hard, and don’t give up,” said Yazzie in a message to developing artists. 


“I couldn’t ask for anything better,” said Yazzie. “The institute was a really great opportunity for me. I believe that many young artists need to take any opportunity that can help their journey with their art, no matter how small or big it is.”