Navajo Yebijhi Dancer

Media - 1979.144.11 - SAAM-1979.144.11_2 - 117380
Copied Awa Tsireh, Navajo Yebijhi Dancer, ca. 1917-1919, watercolor and pencil on paperboard, sheet: 11 128 14 in. (29.120.8 cm), Smithsonian American Art Museum, Corbin-Henderson Collection, gift of Alice H. Rossin, 1979.144.11

Artwork Details

Navajo Yebijhi Dancer
ca. 1917-1919
Not on view
sheet: 11 128 14 in. (29.120.8 cm)
lower right in pencil: 12 back upper left in ink: A Navaho-/by Awa-Tsireh- back upper left in pencil: 12 (in a circle) backing mat verso upper left in ballpoint pen and ink: A Navaho/Awa tsireh
Credit Line
Corbin-Henderson Collection, gift of Alice H. Rossin
Mediums Description
watercolor and pencil on paperboard
  • Indian — Navajo
  • Dress — Indian dress
  • Figure male — full length
  • Performing arts — dance
Object Number

Artwork Description

The paintings of Awa Tsireh (1898-1955), who was also known by his Spanish name, Alfonso Roybal, represent an encounter between the art traditions of native Pueblo peoples in the southwestern United States and the American modernist art style begun in New York in the early twentieth century. The son of distinguished potters, Awa Tsireh translated geometic pottery designs into stylized watercolors that feature the ceremonial dancers and practices of Pueblo communities. But Awa Tsireh's work is more than an amalgam of traditional and modernist design. At a time when the U.S. Office of Indian Affairs attempted to restrict Pueblo cultural and religious practices, the watercolors of Awa Tsireh and other Pueblo artists helped to affirm the importance of ceremonial dance and tirual to cultural survival.

Awa Tsireh's paintings quickly found an audience among the artists, writers, and archaeologists who descended on Santa Fe in great numbers in the late 1910s and 1920s. Painter John Sloan and poet Alice Corbin Henderson took a particular interest and arranged for his watercolors to be exhibited in New York, Chicago, and elsewhere. Henderson shared with the young Pueblo painter books on European and American modernism and Japanese woodblock prints, as well as South Asian miniatures and ancient Egyptian art that provided soure material for his stylized paintings. In this way, he redefined contemporary Pueblo art and created a new, pan-Pueblo style.

The paintings in this exhibition were donated to the Smithsonian American Art Museum in 1979 by the Hendersons' daughter, Alice H. Rossin.

Gallery Label
The Yeibichai or Yebijhi Dance is part of a sacred nine-day ceremony to heal and restore harmony. It is performed by the Navajo, or Diné, as they are knonw today, usually after the first frost in November. One the final night, Yeibichai, or Talking God, appears and dances to the sound of gourd rattles held by six male and six female dancers. Tonenili, the Water Sprinkler or God of Water, acts as the clown and brings comic relief to an otherwise intense and serious dance.