Clitso Dedman, Navajo Carver: His Art and His World
Rebecca Valette’s Clitso Dedman, Navajo Carver is the first biography of artist Clitso Dedman (1876–1953), one of the most important but overlooked Diné (Navajo) artists of his generation. Dedman was born to a traditional Navajo family in Chinle, Arizona, and herded sheep as a child. He was educated in the late 1880s and early 1890s at the Fort Defiance Indian School, then at the Teller Institute in Grand Junction, Colorado. After graduation Dedman moved to Gallup, New Mexico, where he worked in the machine shop of the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railway before opening his first of three Navajo trading posts in Rough Rock, Arizona. After tragedy struck his life in 1915, he moved back to Chinle and abruptly changed careers to become a blacksmith and builder.
At age sixty, suffering from arthritis, Dedman turned his creative talent to wood carving, thus initiating a new Navajo art form. Although the neighboring Hopis had been carving Kachina dolls for generations, the Navajos traditionally avoided any permanent reproduction of their Holy People, and even of human figures. Dedman was the first to ignore this proscription, and for the rest of his life he focused on creating wooden sculptures of the various participants in the Yeibichai dance, which closed the Navajo Nightway ceremony. These secular carvings were immediately purchased and sold to tourists by regional Indian traders. Today Dedman’s distinctive and highly regarded work can be found in private collections, galleries, and museums, such as the Navajo Nation Museum at Window Rock, the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco, and the Arizona State Museum in Tucson. Clitso Dedman, Navajo Carver, with its extensive illustrations, is the story of a remarkable and underrecognized figure of twentieth-century Navajo artistic creation and innovation.
Praise for Clitso Dedman, Navajo Carver: His Art and His World
“Rebecca Valette’s history of the life of the early to mid-twentieth-century Diné trader, architect, and master wood carver Clitso Dedman is a fascinating work—well written and beautifully illustrated. Empathetically written in consultation with descendants, it also uses an amazing array of print and archival sources, which would-be writers of poorly documented Indigenous life histories will appreciate. The book’s thorough inventory of Dedman’s carvings and their dispositions will interest students of Indigenous art marketing and collecting as well.”—Klara Kelley, coauthor of Navajoland Trading Post Encyclopedia
“Although Clitso Dedman’s artistic career spanned only about thirteen years, his carved figures are instantly recognizable and highly prized by collectors and dealers alike. As the first detailed account of Dedman’s life, this book is an important contribution to the literature and allows a deeper appreciation for his work. Weaving together a wealth of obscure facts about the artist’s life, Rebecca Valette gives a wonderful account of how one man bridged two cultures, a problem that continues to challenge nearly every Native American today. Equally important, Valette establishes a guide to dating Dedman’s work, the majority of which still remains in private collections.”—Russell Hartman, former anthropology collections manager at the California Academy of Sciences and former director-curator of the Navajo Nation Museum
“Rebecca Valette has uncovered long-hidden information about one of the most important artists of the Navajo Nation. This book reveals for the first time the early life of Clitso Dedman and his relationship with Indian traders on the Navajo Nation, which encouraged his wood carvings of participants in ceremonial life of the Diné people, particularly the Nightway ceremony. Additionally, Valette reveals the known locations of Dedman’s carvings—single carvings, sets of four carvings, and his magnificent and rare complete sets containing sixteen carvings. Because of Valette’s diligent work, the works of this Diné artist are documented and available for the first time ever.”—Alexander E. Anthony Jr., owner and director of Adobe Gallery, Santa Fe, New Mexico