Coming Together | The Navajo Code Talker Legacy
featuring the artwork of Navajo Code Talkers and their descendants
75 Years of Coming Home
This Show first ran from September through November 2019. It brought together 8 artists who are the children, grandchildren and great grandchildren of Navajo Code Talkers. It also featured the artwork of 2 of the First 29 Code Talkers - Chester Nez and Carl Gorman.
We had plans of repeating this show through 2020 to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the ending of the war, but curcumstances have prevents that from coming to full realization. However, I continue to work with these wonderful artists and will be updating this webpage with additional works and can share them with you by appointment of via photographs.
As the United States entered WWII in 1941, the Japanese had broken U.S. diplomatic and military codes, leaving no secure means of communication in the pacific. On May 4th, 1942 the Marine Corps recruited a platoon of 30 Navajos to develop and test the feasibility a code using the Navajo Language. This group would go through Marine Recruit training at Camp Pendleton as platoon 382 - the first “All-Indian, All-Navajo” platoon.
The “First Twenty Nine” developed a code of approximately 200 terms using the Navajo language. By the war’s end the code had grown to about 700 terms and 400+ Navajos had been recruited and trained as Code Talkers (MOS 642).
The Navajo Code remained classified until 1968 and is still the only military verbal code never to be broken.
This is a show meant to tell the story of the Code Talkers, not to tell the war stories, but to tell what they won...
When the war ended in 1945 the Code Talkers were given the chance to return home. Some remained in the Marine Corps serving through the occupation and even into the Korean War, others settled across the country to pursue careers in the civilian life, and many returned to Dinetah.
While fighting in the pacific, they were treated as equals among the Marines, told that their language and culture were important and helping win the war. But many had sad reminders upon returning home, that "Indians" weren't even citizens of their own land. Navajos were not allowed to vote until 1948 and could not celebrate their return home with friends in a bar, unless those friends were white.
A few dedicated their lives to art, like my Cheii Carl Gorman, and Chester Nez - just to name a couple. They used their art to share beauty with the world. Some of it may have been healing for them, some helped open the doors for Navajo artists today to carry on traditional arts and explore new ideas and mediums in art.
Now, 74 years after the end of the war, a few of these descendants are coming together to showcase their talents and honor their elders who fought and paved the way for ours and the next generations to be free to explore these creative avenues.
The show will feature the original artwork of two Navajo Code Talkers: Chester Nez and Carl N. Gorman as well as the art of Teddy Draper III, April Kristine Tsosie, R.C. Gorman, and Michael Gorman (Additional artists may be involved)
There will be an artists' reception for this show and other artists in the gallery on Friday September 6th 2019 from 4-7pm at the Michael Gorman Gallery located at 103 E Plaza in Taos, New Mexico.
More about the Artists:
Chester Nez - Was the last surviving member of the “First Twenty-Nine” Navajo Code Talkers. After returning home from WWII he attended school at Haskell Institute in Lawrence, Kansa, and then the University of Kansas. He enlisted in the Marine Reserves and was called back for service in 1950 where he was stationed in Hawaii during the Korean War. He had a goal to become a commercial artist. He studied art and after returning from Hawaii found work at the VA hospital in Albuquerque. His art training had made him excellent at matching paints (in the days before computer mixing), and when the chapel needed repainting, he took a month to design and paint a series of Navajo Ye'iis. Chester passed in 2014 and was laid to rest with full military honors and with the Commandant of the Marine Corps, "The President's Own" United States Marine Band, "The Commandant's Own," The United States Marine Drum &... present to pay honors at Santa Fe National Cemetery.
Carl N. Gorman - One of the “First Twenty-Nine” Navajo Code Talkers. Following the war, he used his G.I. Bill to attend the Otis College of Art and Design (formerly the OTIS Art Institute). He was an accomplished artist and teacher. He was given a Doctor of Humane Letters from UNM and was a highly respected Navajo Leader. Gorman was founding faculty for the Native American Studies Program at UC Davis and teh C.N. Gorman Museum at UC Davis now bears his name.
Teddy Draper III - Son of Teddy Draper Sr. Teddy joined the Marine Corps following 9/11. He went through Marnie Recruit training at Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego just as his father had done. Teddy paints in acrylics and draws inspiration from his service and the veteran culture of the Navajo.
April Kristine Tsosie (April Kristine Nona Tsosie -Artwork) - Granddaughter of Code Talker, Wilson C. Skeet. April grew up spending summers with her grandparents on their ranch on the Navajo Reservation near Gallup, New Mexico. She tended the cornfield, sheep, horses and cattle. The memories she made growing up were what first inspired her to paint. Her work shows has an emotional investment as they tell the memories, stories and events of her life.
Latham Nez (La Nez)- Grandson of Chester Nez. Latham works in contemporary Navajo sculpture. Using images of the Ye'ii, inspired by the paintings of his grandfather, his work ties traditional stories, dances and ceremonies with contemporary tools and techniques to allow the viewer a glimpse into Navajo beliefs.
R.C. Gorman - Son of Carl N. Gorman. R.C. served in the Navy in the 1950s. He was the first recipient of a Navajo Tribal scholarship to study outside the United States. His art career spanned over 5 decades and he was dubbed by The New York Times “the Picasso of American Indian Art”. In 1968, R.C. opened the first Native American owned fine art gallery here in Taos.
Michael Gorman - Grandson of Carl N. Gorman. Works primarily in ceramics and photography, but also paints, silversmiths, woodworks, and draws. He's had his work published in several books and magazines starting in 2001. His gallery opened in Taos New Mexico in 2018 and continues the Gorman Tradition of art in Taos.