Born and raised in Albuquerque, Begay spent her summers at Seba Dalkai, Ariz., on the Navajo Reservation, where she learned traditional weaving from her grandmother. She took photography courses at the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, thinking she would pursue fashion design.
One day, she sliced up a photograph, then pieced it back together using her weaving skills. The results resemble a combination of jigsaw puzzles and the raised surfaces of Navajo textiles. When people see her work, they’re both startled and intrigued.
“They always say, ‘You must have a lot of patience,’ ” Begay said. “When they first see it, they think I’ve painted on leather or they think it’s a puzzle.”
Begay (her first name is pronounced “Teedra”) will be selling her photo weavings at the 96th annual Santa Fe Indian Market on Aug. 19-20. The most prestigious event of its kind, it lures more than 100,000 visitors from across the globe to buy art from roughly 900 artists from more than 200 tribes across the U.S. and Canada. Visitors can choose from a crazy quilt of mediums of materials, including sculpture, painting, basketry, fiber, jewelry, pottery, mixed-media, film and photography in both traditional and contemporary styles. Many participants claim to make one-third to half their yearly income at Indian Market. Organizers estimate the event draws about 150,000 people and roughly $80 million annually to the city.
Begay’s double exposure combines a White Mountain Apache landscape with an Apache corn dancer in precisely placed woven strips. A larger photo transfer onto aluminum called “White Mountain Spirit” showcases Native American Church instruments —— a peyote fan, a rattle and a drumstick. Its structure ripples with Navajo flower patterns. It took second place in photography at the 2015 Heard Museum Guild Indian Art Fair.
Begay slices her photographs into quarter-inch strips before piecing them together on her gridded work table. Her spacious apartment brims with the artwork of her people. Navajo rugs hang diagonally across the walls; pueblo pottery and basketry line a bookshelf. Baskets anchor the fireplace mantle near stuffed animl lambs.
Reaching for her phone, Begay shows a visitor a shot of a group of lambs staring up at the camera, their tiny bodies swaddled in sweaters.
“Sometimes we can lamb in the winter when you’re not supposed to,” she said, “so we put sweaters (the babies).
“My grandmother would make little looms for us. She was a weaver. It was fun making little designs with all those different colors.
“I wanted to make something different for my senior’s thesis.”
She began by weaving cornstalks together.
After graduating from IAIA in 2005, Begay took five years off to decide what she wanted to do.
“As time went along, I started to do little designs within my weavings,” she said. “I just started experimenting one day, and it came about.”
In 2013, she applied at Indian Market and was immediately accepted. Last year, she took second place in the digital photography category. She also shows her work at the New Mexico State Fair.
She’s planning photography trips to Canyon de Chelly and Monument Valley and hopes one day to create her art full time. She currently works in the library at the Southwestern Indian Polytechnic Institute.
Begay’s parents now live in Gilbert, Ariz. She was about to take her father to visit the Grand Canyon for the first time on a long holiday weekend. She still visits her grandmother’s sheep and cattle ranch.
“She’s just awed at what I can do,” Begay said. “She loves it.”