Miriam Joy

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Who is Miriam Joy?

Artist, Teacher and Business owner Miriam Joy Sagen enjoys art with a sincere passion. Being blessed with growing up on the Navajo reservation, where her father taught at the Indian school gave Miriam an advantage to not only appreciate culture art forms but also helped her to develop her own style of art, which includes gourd art, jewelry making and painting.

When asked what it was like growing up on the Navajo reservation she likes to sometimes refer to herself as ‘the little white girl on the Rez’ who not only was befriended by the Navajo people but also was taught to appreciate what nature brings to us all through creating art, and the inner peace that goes with it.

Miriam currently lives Prescott, Arizona and is married and has five full-grown children whom also share a passion for art. Currently Miriam has her artwork displayed at several galleries in Sedona, Camp Verde, and Prescott, Arizona.

The Basics of Wax Design

Recent article in Prescott, Arizona Newspaper (5-17-2010)

PRESCOTT – From wind-carved canyons to flat-bottom clouds, growing up at Lukachukai on the Navajo Reservation continues to influence gourd artist Miriam Joy Sagen’s wildly colorful and edgy art.

“When you’re raised on the reservation, you see things differently,” Sagen said from her Prescott Valley home and studio. “It gave me an appreciation for nature and designs – the reds of the mountains and blues of the sky.”

Zigzags, lightning bolts, trees, circles, swirls and dream catchers inhabit her gourds’ skins. As intriguing, and sometimes bizarre, as some of her designs are, it’s her colors that jump at you before getting close to a piece.

“The colors are so different in Arizona from anywhere else,” Sagen said. “We have more yellows, reds, browns, oranges – comforting colors, earth tones.” In 1964, Sagen was 6 months old when the Bureau of Indian Affairs hired her father as a teacher at nearby Chinle. “It was a boarding school, and the kids were still coming in wagons,” she said. Artistic talent seemed to flourish naturally in the Indian students, and although Sagen loved it, she did not think she could ever be as good as her classmates. “I remember this second-grade artist that was as good as any adult,” she said.

After graduating from Chinle High School, the family left the reservation and Sagen decided she had enough of Indian art. But by then, the designs and colors she grew up with were deeply embedded in her subconscious, and she continued to create art inspired from her reservation life. “I was painting clouds in an art class in California, and the teacher got mad at me,” Sagen remembers. “She kept telling me there is no such thing as flat bottom clouds, so I knew she had never been to Arizona.”

Three years ago, after Sagen and her husband, Bud, moved to Prescott Valley, she joined the Yavapai Gourd Patch and discovered her passion for gourds. She made the classic gourd art – cut off the top, cleaned the inside and painted the outside – but she did not stop there. Just a few of her unique creations include necklaces, bowls, flowerpots, wall hangings and ceremonial dance masks – and most reflect her choices of brilliant colors and Indian designs. Still, she wanted to do more. Inspired by her early school days of crayon drawings, she experimented with melting crayons and “painting” the thick colored waxes onto gourds.

“I heat the crayon and then use a kistka, which is a Ukrainian egg tool, and pour it onto the gourd,” she explained. The gourd does not absorb the melted crayon wax, which creates a type of three-dimensional bas-relief design.

With her new wax technique, Sagen creates Prescott-inspired pine trees with tiny individual pine needles, and other tree designs that resemble Chinese and Japanese art. And of course her beloved Indian designs, some of which are so intricate that they resemble sand paintings.

“When I finished high school, it was kind of the beginning of the end for white people on the reservation,” Sagen said. “The government was trying to get us out.

“Even though I tried to fight it after we left, I always came back to Indian designs. So eventually instead of fighting it, I embraced it.”

Special Thanks to our son Erik who designed and provides creative control over this wonderful website ~ he is a great son and exceptional artist!


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