He was the son of a Navajo Indian mother and a white missionary father, spending his early years on the Navajo reservation near Chinle, Arizona.
Friends were hard to come by when the teachers at missionary schools and the Santa Fe Indian School held him up as an example because he was light-skinned. But Joe Wilson, a full-blooded Navajo cousin liked him. "It's what's inside you that counts. It's not whether you're Indian or white," Joe counseled.
An incorrigible runaway, a stowaway, a secret agent, a WW II prison camp survivor, Paladin's life story sounds more like fiction than fact. Later associations with indigenous peoples led to his education as a shaman by the Huichols and Tarahumaras of Mexico, the Northwest Coastal Indians and the Pueblo Indians, and by the Australian Aboriginals. While he lived in New Mexico he was a radio announcer for a classical music station, midwife, volunteer police chaplain, and prison chaplain at Los Lunas Medium Security Correctional Facility where he began the first Unitarian Universalist Fellowship in a prison setting. He devoted the last twenty years of his life to painting and community service (d 1984).
Although he resisted art teachers like Dorothy Dunn in the early days at the Santa Fe Indian School, he always knew he wanted to be an artist. A visit with Marc Chagall while Paladin was a student at the Chicago Art Institute gave his art direction as Chagall encouraged him to draw upon his native heritage and to paint his personal visions inspired by creation legends.
Although David Chethlahe Paladin is an influential artist in terms of his
contributions to the development of contemporary Native American art, the breadth and
depth of his work exceeds the usual artistic style appellations. Paladin's art is rooted
in but not bounded by the lore of his Indian ancestry. His themes are timelessness and
universality. While some of his motifs are recognizably Indian, Paladin's singular ability
to amalgamate recurrent images enables him to straddle cultures and embrace design
concepts that have a universal rather than merely cultural appeal. At the core of his
remarkably diverse art is the theme of harmony and peace as it touches upon the spiritual
and dream qualities of the roots of humankind.
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