ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Ben Harjo Jr. is often referred to as the Picasso of Native American art.
With a touch of whimsy and astonishing colors, one could see why the comparison is drawn.
Though living in Oklahoma City, Harjo has a solid New Mexico foundation.
He was born in Clovis and raised in Oklahoma.
He moved to Santa Fe to study at the Institute of American Indian Arts. He then returned to Oklahoma to study at Oklahoma State University.
With a high-profile career, he’s remained a friend to the Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian.
And the museum is giving the community a chance to get up close and personal with Harjo, during a dinner on Saturday, Dec. 9, at the museum.
At 5 p.m., there will be a cocktail hour during which eventgoers can view a selection of original drawings by Harjo that will be available for purchase, as well as a coloring book featuring his artwork.
Then at 6 p.m., a casual New Mexican dinner will be served in the museum’s library, catered by Plaza Café Southside. Harjo will give an introduction during the meal.
“We’re excited to bring Ben to the museum,” says Ken Williams, the Case Trading Post manager at the museum. “When Ben comes, he brings a great spirit to wherever he goes. That’s also reflected in his art. He’s able to bring a smile to your face.”
Over the years, Williams has developed a working relationship with Harjo and his wife, Barbara.
And Harjo has returned the favor, often donating pieces to the museum for its auctions.
In fact, the focus of the event is the large donation of original holiday cards that Harjo donated to the Wheelwright years ago.
“They are quite a departure from his color work,” Williams says. “They are more linear and so crisp. It’s different, and you never know what to expect from Ben.”
Williams says the Wheelwright is planning more events with artists in the future.
“It’s a very relaxed atmosphere,” he says. “Ben is charming and witty. This event really honors him and his wife for the support to the museum. They’ve donated time and paintings. It honors them as artist friends and as patrons.”
The Harjos are also known for helping cultivate younger artists.
“Barbara loves to promote people, and she’s a people person,” he says. “She’s been very inspirational to other artists by introducing them to clients and collectors. The both of them really enjoy giving their time to help out the artists.”