FLAGSTAFF-Rick Swanson, marketing and development director of the new North Country HealthCare facility, welcomed a large crowd of admirers to the unveiling of several murals Dec. 7.
Swanson joined world-famous Navajo artists Baje Whitethorne and Shonto Begay on the staircase that frames the lower border of their two-wall mural and welcomed them as ambassadors for their culture.
"I have learned more about your culture in the past few weeks," Swanson said. "This mural is far beyond our wildest dreams-and is one of Arizona's art treasures."
Ann Roggenbuck, CEO and founder of the facility, surveyed the crowd with excitement.
"We have people hanging from the rafters," she exclaimed. "It has been good to have the artists here. It felt like family, and I wish they could stay."
She shared a laugh at her own expense as she admitted that she had found herself telling Whitethorne and Begay what to do with their painting.
"Thank God they had the wherewithal to tell me that this was their project," Roggenbuck laughed. "Imagine, me telling master artists how to do their work."
Nonetheless, she expressed her thanks to Whitethorne for including a home-state South Dakota pheasant in his portion of the mural.
"I was describing the bird to him, and he kept insisting it was a turkey," Roggenbuck quipped.
"I feel like crooning," Begay said of the mural-which was an experience he said fortified his self-esteem.
He explained that both he and Whitethorne are from the community of Shonto, and that the effort was a collaboration between communities-from the reservation to Flagstaff.
"The story of the mural started two years earlier," Begay said. "It is an homage to healing, well being and all the blessings from this part of the country."
He gestured to his depiction of the multicultural community of Flagstaff involved in a round dance before the Sacred Mountains that define Dinetah - the traditional Navajo homeland.
"This is a universal dance of peace-a releasing of light, shifting of paradigms and a dance of hope," Begay continued.
Whitethorne recognized his relationship with Begay, describing him as his younger brother.
Whitethorn described the mural's sunrise to sunset-the Navajo cosmology that includes the spring, summer, fall and winter, and out into the universe, populated with the clouds, the Pleides, produced in his signature bold strokes of color.
"It took most of our lives to come together, and our different ways and styles of painting came together," Whitethorne said. "Now I can look at my work and see some of Shonto's style there."
Whitethorne introduced some of the young people who worked on the mural.
Jake Fragua, representing Jemez Pueblo, is a member of the Artists Collective-a part of Native Movement.
"I was honored to work with Shonto and Baje," Fragua said. "People can learn so much from young kids."
Averian Chee continued that thought, explaining that he and other young artists, including mentor Cy Wagoner, were honored to learn from Whitethorne and Begay-"I believe we taught Shonto and Baje a little too. Young people are not always given the best eye, and some people call aerosol art graffiti or vandalism. But we were feeling that Shonto and Baje would [both] make great graffiti artists."
Whitethorne pointed out the contribution of another younger artist, Geronimo Vasquez-of Hispanic and Aztecan descent. He painted a portion of the Aztecan calendar, lined up to the opening date of the event.
Randall Wilson of Birdsprings was introduced and thanked by Whitethorne.
"Randy brought me food and drink," Whitethorne explained. "It felt good to be taken care of. Sometimes as artists, we don't take care of ourselves."
Wilson, who created murals of fabulous jungle and American animals in two of the children's immunization rooms, said that he enjoyed the experience.
"I normally do Indian art and wanted to do something different to keep the minds of the kids off of getting shots," Wilson said.
Following the presentation, the crowd enjoyed food from Main Street Catering while taking in the numerous details of the beautiful murals.
North Country HealthCare is located at 2920 North Fourth Street-the public is welcome to view the Begay/Whitethorne mural, located in a public area of the facility. To see Randall Wilson's fabulous animal world, a viewer might have to be willing to roll up his sleeve for a shot-or at least schedule an appointment.