Throughout his school years, Yazzie continued to paint and gave away some of his work as gifts. After high school, he attended Calvin College in Michigan where he obtained a B.A. in Art Education. Upon graduation in 1976, he returned to Rehoboth Christian School where he began his teaching career.
reflects on his Navajo heritage and the things he learned about the traditional elements of his culture. “The hogan, the cradle board, the loom, and the basket all have stories and meaning for life. It’s a combination of that influence along with the scripture and the inspiration of the Holy Spirit that leads me as I paint."
Yazzie bases the divine calling to artists on the example of Bezalel in Exodus 31:1-11. Bezalel was named by God to create the furnishings for the Tabernacle. As a sign of this calling, Bezalel was described by God as being filled with the Spirit, having understanding and skill in all kinds of crafts. Yazzie writes that "Bezalel was inspired by God to create unique works so that the people could have visual reminders of God and God's work. Inspiration took place, creativity followed, and uniqueness was the result."
Yazzie carries this concept even further with his students:
“I encourage my students to look at the characteristics of God and try to understand who He is as an artist. In Ephesians 2:10 we read that, ‘We are His workmanship created in Christ Jesus to do good works that He has prepared in advance for us.’ “Then I read the creation story and realize that everything was created with His voice except human life. It says God formed human life out of the dust of the earth. He took His hands and created us. We are His masterpiece. Each one of us is unique, one of a kind. Whether we like it or not we all have artistic characteristics within us and God wants us to contribute to the world just as Jesus Christ did. As God’s masterpiece, we too, can contribute uniquely to our world."
Yazzie's paintings range in style from "sky-scapes" of contextualized Diné elements, to more realistic images of landscapes or people. Unfortunately, I found few in-depth explanations of his work (an exception is "Success" shown above), but there are some short descriptions offered along with this selection of his images. You can see some of his other work here and here. Thanks to Paul Neeley for the heads up on Elmer Yazzie!