“Something I always seem to be telling my students, is that in life, and especially art, when you’re creating something great, doors of opportunity open to you. My life is no exception,” says Peterson Yazzie, Instructor at NPC.
When Yazzie describes how he became an NPC art instructor and published illustrator, he affirms again that it was doors of opportunity that led him from high school to college and his career. “Another thing I tell my students is that when you do have an opportunity, you can take it and let it affect your life, or simply wait and choose the next opportunity that comes to you,” says Yazzie. “I’ve been lucky enough to have my opportunities come when they did.”
Yazzie says that his first door of opportunity was in high school as he studied under an inspiring art teacher at Holbrook High School, Don Whitesinger. “He would push us to create and always made sure our art was on display,” recalled Yazzie. “It was through him that other people saw what I was creating. My work would be in art shows and contests, and it was because of him that I found my love for art and really started seeing that this could be a career for me.”
Yazzie was offered three different college scholarships, but he was nervous at the prospect of getting a degree. “Many in my family were lucky just to have a high school diploma, let alone go to college. College always seemed completely out of the question, but I thought I would try.” Yazzie first pursued a degree at NPC, then transferred to the Institute of Native American Arts, earning his bachelor’s, and then eventually went on to the University of New Mexico (UNM), where he earned his master’s of fine arts.
While at UNM, a second unexpected door of opportunity opened when he was offered a teaching assistantship. “When I tried teaching I was surprised at how fulfilling it was to not only create my own art, but to help others create art; to inspire others just like my previous mentors had inspired me.”
During the time he was teaching and studying at UNM, Yazzie was approached to illustrate a children’s book, The Hogan that Grandfather Built. Yazzie credits this opportunity with stretching his abilities as an artist and allowing him to reach a higher level professionally. “Normally I approach paintings knowing that when this particular painting is done, I can start on something else. But with a book, it’s seen as a body of work. The colors need to blend in with the others from page to page; they all have to flow into one another. It was a challenge, but worth it.”
When Yazzie finished his studies at UNM, he returned home to Navajo County and still worked on illustrating The Hogan that Grandfather Built (a multi-year project). He also continued doing his own independent artwork. But Yazzie missed teaching. “I felt a need to share my experiences with others again. I was so happy when the opportunity came to teach at NPC and to be able to give back to the community where I grew my love of art.”
Now, with The Hogan that Grandfather Built published and daily opportunities to teach, Yazzie expresses gratitude for his time at NPC. “I’m always humbled by the talent I see at NPC every day, and I’m happy that I can share these experiences with the students in any way I can. I just hope to be able to guide the students at NPC through their own ‘doors of opportunity,’ just as my instructors and mentors have done for me.”
– Michael Nilsson