Navajo Sun's House (Four Snakes, Five Birds & Four Lightning Sticks)
Lot 4007
A rare and important Navajo Sun's House screen
US$ 40,000 - 60,000
£26,000 - 39,000

Lot Details
A rare and important Navajo Sun's House screen A rare and important Navajo Sun's House screen Navajo Sun's House (Four Snakes, Five Birds & Four Lightning Sticks) Navajo Sun's House (Four Snakes, Five Birds & Four Lightning Sticks)
A rare and important Navajo Sun's House screen
For use in the Sun's House Branch of the Male Shootingway healing chant, constructed as a series of joined willow rods, painted in broad bands of four significant colors, openings near the bottom occupied by representations of Holy People, these same four deities seen overhead surmounted by cloud symbols, four guardian snakes mounted across the center, five birds representing the heavens flutter above; along with three emblematic lightning sticks, implements used on the ninth night of the observance by dancers in the dark circle-of-branches place.
height 56 1/2in, width 66in

Footnotes

  • THE SUN'S HOUSE

    Of great symbolic significance, this important and rare screen was set out early mornings of the fifth through eighth days of the nine-night healing and blessing chant (or "sing") of Male Shootingway, Sun's House Branch. As the name implies, this is a representation of Father Sun's House displaying depictions of various sky-dwelling deities, each feature having multiple identities; a yellow stripe at bottom representing the home of the Yellow Wind, evening light and the West; blue representing the color of the Sun, day, and South; then black for night, the North and home of the Dark Wind; and at top, white for dawn, the East and the color of the Moon.

    The four snakes are guardians of Sun's House. Appearing at the bottom of the screen are four entries to Sun's house, sometimes interpreted as being Snakes' houses. Within these windows are the Holy People; Sun, Moon, and Black and Yellow Winds symbolized as discs and again shown at the top of the screen after passing into the sky and now topped by cloud symbols above them. Suspended above the screen are five birds of carved and painted yucca root. (During the sing in the hogan [traditional Navajo home], the Medicine Man has assistants who hide behind the screen. When the patient [One-Sung-Over] sits on the sandpainting created for the occasion, the assistants manipulate the snakes through the screen via the holes by the faces at the bottom. They also pull strings that pass through hooks on the logs of the roof of the hogan with the birds attached to one end thereby causing the birds to go up and down over the screen as if they were flying. Meanwhile the assistants play water whistles and make bird sounds.)

    The Guardian Rainbow delineates the top and sides of the screen. This screen has unique over-painting of the rainbow and implies its rare use in two branches of Male Shootingway: holyway and evilway sides. This is evidenced by the rainbow's red band inside to rid the lightning-struck patient, or the One-Sung-Over, of evil and is exorcistic - the red outside being prophylactic, meant to bring blessings to the patient. A Singer/Chanter not having a screen may substitute a sandpainting of the Sun's House for the screen. This may be one of the rare occasions in the hundreds of Navajo sandpainting proscriptions that the guardian rainbow is depicted red inside.

    In Navajo beliefs it was to the Sun's House the Sacred Twins traveled on lightning and rainbows to visit their father. Previously unknown to them, the Twins forced their mother, Changing Woman, (Mother Earth) to divulge who their father was. The supernatural adventure of the Twins is fraught with pitfalls and great danger and they are rewarded in the end by Father Sun, who is married to another, by accepting them as his children and giving them the knowledge, prayers, sandpaintings, healing and paraphernalia to bring back to the Din'e (Navajo) People.

    Material: Willow rods, wood, natural earth/clay paint, handspun two-ply wool and cotton string, commercial cotton string, calico trade cloth.

    Provenance: Richard Corrow collection, Apache Junction, Arizona who acquired it from a Navajo Singer in 1989 and now deceased. It is believed the original owner assembled the screen about 1935 and it passed through two other Singers. It was sold to Corrow when considered "no longer to be alive." Further information will be supplied to Buyer. Traditionally, Navajo medicine bundles are the property of the Singer and not the tribe.

    "I have the greatest respect for these items and hope the same respect and accord will be bestowed on them in the future. They should be appreciated by ALL Americans. This screen and other medicine bundles for sale were recently offered to the Navajo tribe, however they did not respond to my offer. As I acquired it in 1989, it is not subject to NAGPRA laws, (personal communication with Tim McKeown, NAGPRA Implementation for the National Park Service, January 25, 2001). This screen had last been sung over for a purification and blessing ceremony by hataali Billy Yellow in 1996 with me as the One-Sung-Over."

    Richard Corrow
    October, 2012
Auction information

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