Franc Johnson Newcomb’s documentation of Navajo art and culture—writing, lecturing, reproduction of ritual sandpaintings, and her collection of Navajo photographs, have made a significant impact on Southwestern studies. Her work, abetted by her friendship with Navajo leader Hosteen Klah, has been instrumental to the preservation of Navajo culture.
Newcomb’s career was shaped and etched by her experiences living on the Navajo Reservation, but her accomplishments remain relatively marginalized.
As a result of her relationship with the Navajo people, and a reputation as a woman with medicine, she received the Navajo name “Atsay Ashon” (medicine woman).
Her collection of photographs and sandpaintings were gifted to the “Dine”, the Navajo People, and are held at the Navajo Community college in Tsaile, Arizona, under the direction of Harry Walters, who was instrumental in bringing this collection to the college.
Newcomb’s introduction to fieldwork as an ethnographer and artist developed through her closeness to the surrounding Navajo community but particularly due to her friendship with Hosteen Klah (1867-1937), was considered a great man of his tribe. This association opened up a world of serious scholarship that Newcomb accepted with great enthusiasm. The progressive Klah was the first to welcome A.J. and later Franc Newcomb, as he helped them understand and become integrated into Navajo society. He was one of the most renowned and respected singers, proficient in several ceremonies including Nightway, Chiricahua Windway, Hailway, and portions of others.
These images are provided courtesy of The Morton H. Sachs Collection of Franc Newcomb Sand Paintings and Papers.