Basically, a “sand painting” is just what it sounds like: a painting done with sand. These are done on most any surface, using an appropriate type of glue or epoxy to bond the finely ground “sand” to the surface. The most popular sand paintings, those done by Native Americans, were primarily done on particle board. However, artisans have branched out to start “painting” on many different mediums.
Sand paintings began as paintings on the floors of ceremonial hogans by Navajo medicine men. They were made of different types of fine sand or finely ground minerals. The Navajo medicine men used them during healing ceremonies, then obliterated them, as it was “bad luck” to lay eyes on them again. The Navajo word for sandpainting: “iikaah” translates as “the place where the gods come and go.” Around the 1940s, Navajo artisans started making permanent sandpaintings to preserve the traditions and ideas of the healing ceremonies. They changed the designs in small ways so as to protect the religious significance of the original ceremonial sandpaintings. As years progressed, artisans branched out to include pictorials of “Navajo life.” This further creativity led to sand painting designs on other mediums and branching out to create portraits and pictures other than the pictorials.
The artistry and creativity of the Navajo people has been preserved in many sand paintings throughout the years. It is not as popular of an art as it used to be, but there are still many, many great sand painters out there. Much time and patience goes into each sand painting created by these fabulous artisans.
A few links of interest: