From a very young age, I found excitement in recreating facets of my universe in varying images. I was inspired and surrounded by Hozho (beauty), including the sounds of songs and healing chants accompanied with stories from elders. I survived boarding school partly because of my spiritual strength and retreat into my drawings. I was always drawing. “Arts Save Lives” is my mantra. “Shonto” in Dineh’ translates to sunlight on water--a reflection of light on the canyon wall from the flowing water. My journey as an artist is to document my life and the world as I see through the lens I was born with through my Navajo experience while negotiating the modern. I have worn many hats in my life: shepherd, BIA Boarding School inmate, cowboy, National Park Service Ranger, Wildfire crew, professional boxing team support, film actor, author and artist.
Born in a Hogan, Shonto grew up herding sheep in sheep in Kletha Valley in Shonto, Arizona. One of 16 children, his mother is a traditional Navajo rug weaver from the Bitter Water Clan, and his father was a medicine man born to the Salt Clan. Shonto attended Bureau of Indian Affairs boarding schools on the Navajo reservation and high school in Kayenta, Arizona. He received an Associates of Fine Art degree at the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, and a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from California College of Arts and Crafts. He worked in the 1980s as a National Park Service ranger at Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming and Navajo National Monument in Arizona. In 2017, he became an Artist in Residence at Northern Arizona University.
Shonto’s artwork was featured in solo exhibits at the Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian in Santa Fe, the Museum of Northern Arizona, Arizona State Museum, Utah Museum of Fine Arts, the American Indian Contemporary Arts Museum, the National Museum of Wildlife Art, the Booth Western Art Museum, and the Phoenix Art Museum. He made his film debut as the character “Cowboy” in the Native-produced Monster Slayer Project—a movie inspired by the Navajo origin story.