20th-Century Narciso Abeyta (Ha So De) Painting

Value (2005) | $4,000 Auction$6,000 Auction

We got this picture back in the '30s. My father was studying forestry, and he would take the young, underprivileged kids in the western part of the state all over the natural historical sites, Indian locations and the likes. It would be all over Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming. So they would be about two-week treks. And they'd pile everybody in the back of a pickup truck and then drive them around and camp in each of these locations. And as a result, they gave him this picture as a gift.

It's painted by a Native American artist, and he was a Navajo artist by the name of Narciso Abeyta. His Indian name was Ha-So-De. He was born in 1918. And in 1939, he was one of the first classes at the Santa Fe Indian School, to be taught by Dorothy Dunn. When they were sent to Indian schools to Anglicize them a bit, Dorothy Dunn encouraged all the children there, who were taken from their tribal lands, to remember their native ways. And there were many famous American Indian painters from that class. But the interesting twist in Abeyta's life was in the early '40s. He was pressed into service with about 52 other Navajos to be a code talker in the Pacific theater. They were code talkers that helped the Marines, and these people were sent home, sworn to secrecy, all the Navajos, and they were not allowed to talk until it was declassified in 1968. And if you can imagine to be taken from the tranquil grounds that he grew up on and be thrown into the Pacific theater, with all the danger and the change of climate, the jungles...Unfortunately, he was shell-shocked, and his paintings suffered for it. So you acquired a painting that was done in his prime. And it's really quite wonderful. He and the other code talkers weren't recognized till 1981 for their service to this country. And Abeyta died in the late '90s. He actually has a son, Tony Abeyta, who follows his father's tradition and works in the contemporary vein, too. Have you ever had any thoughts about this painting and its value? Because it's a little nontraditional.

You know, we never really thought about the value at all. It's just such a personal thing for me. Uh, my wife really loved it, and she was the one that reframed it and matted it and had it cleaned up.

Well, I'm sure this is a gift of great affection, but when they purchased this for him, they probably paid as little as $15 for it. And on today's auction market, it would fetch in the $4,000 to $6,000 range.


But it's a great painting by a man who lived a very rich, colorful life. He was also a Golden Gloves boxer and a silversmith.

Oh, I'm impressed.

So I'm glad to see this painting here today.

We definitely love it.

Well, thank you for bringing it in.

Thank you.

Appraisal Details

Franklin, TN
Appraised value (2005)
$4,000 Auction$6,000 Auction
Providence, RI (June 18, 2005)
Tribal Arts
May 18, 2009: In this segment, appraiser Linda Dyer explains that painter Narciso Abeyta was one of a number of Navajos “pressed into service” by the U.S. Marine Corps to be a code talker during World War II. After this episode aired, a viewer wrote in to say that Dyer did not make clear the extent of the code talkers’ service. These Navajos were marines; the military recruited and trained them in the same manner as other marines serving at that time.

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