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Leland Clifton Wyman Papers on Navajo Myths and Sandpaintings,

Identifier: MSS -650-BC

Scope and Content

The Leland Wyman collection contains illustrations, slides and research material. They represent Wyman's research on Navajo myths and sandpaintings, which resulted in several publications. The research includes source material written by Gladys Reichard, Berard Haile, and Franc Newcomb, as well as illustrations of weavings by Hasteen Klah. It also contains 3 albums of color slides depicting Native American arts and crafts, especially Navajo. One other album contains slides of Oriental arts and crafts. The collection is divided into three series: Myths, Sandpaintings and Slides.

Myths includes Navajo stories collected/recorded by various researchers, including Father Berard Haile, Gladys Reichard, Gretchen Chapin, and Franc Newcomb. These are written versions of traditionally oral myths of the Navajo people. The myths vary in levels of importance and sacredness for the Navajo people. The collection includes accounts of the following myths, among others: Chiricahua Apache Windway Myth, Coyote Tales, Holyway Myth of Red Antway, Jicarilla Bear Dance, Male Shooting Chant Myth, Navaho Creation Myths, and The Waterway Myth.

The Sandpaintings series documents the comparative history of sandpaintings, which are a symbolic and ceremonial art form used by the Navajo to re-establish harmonious relationships within the natural world. Included are illustrations and research about sandpaintings from ceremonies such as the Awlway, Blessingway, Hailway, and Mountainway. The sandpainting ceremony is performed by a healer or medicine man, who is called the Singer. The images of the sandpaintings are passed down from generation to generation, through apprenticeships. In order to perform the ceremony, the Singer must have memorized the image, which is not recorded on paper. Some images illustrate the stories of Navajo myths. Once the Singer has created the sandpainting, the subject of the healing ceremony sits in the middle of the sandpainting and the Singer rubs different parts of his or her body with the sand. The sand is considered to be contaminated after a ceremony and is ultimately collected into a pile in the center of the floor and taken outside. The sand consists of small fragments of colored sandstone that is ground into a fine powder. Some sandpaintings are two feet square, while others are up to twenty feet square.

One of the first non-Navajo people to watch a ceremony was Gladys Reichard. She learned the Navajo language and for five summers apprenticed under a Singer. Reichard recorded and translated some of the ceremonies.

Navajo people began weaving the sandpainting images into rugs as early as 1883, as a way to preserve the images, while keeping the sandpainting art form and ceremony sacred. Hasteen Klah, a well known Navajo Singer, was one of the finest weavers of rugs depicting sandpainting designs. Sometimes he is referred to as Lefthanded Klah, because he wove left-handed. Klah met Franc Newcomb, who was a trader's wife. He invited her to witness a Sing in 1917. She asked him to explain the sandpaintings. He was hesitant at first, claiming that they had to be kept secret and sacred, but he ended up explaining 27 sandpaintings to her between 1917 and 1918. Newcomb recorded what she learned.


  • 1920-1981


Language of Materials


Access Restrictions

The collection is open for research.

Copy Restrictions

Limited duplication of CSWR material is allowed for research purposes. User is responsible for compliance with all copyright, privacy, and libel laws. Permission is required for publication or distribution.

Biographical Information

Leland Clifton Wyman was born in Livermore Falls, Maine in 1897. He received his Bachelor's Degree from Bowdoin College in 1918 and his Doctorate from Harvard in 1922. Wyman taught Experimental and Theoretical Physiology and Indian and Asiatic Art at Boston College. He served as chairman of the Division of Medical Sciences for Boston University from 1942-1946.

For more than forty years, Wyman did field work among the Navajo people. He lived with a Navajo family and was invited to participate in their ceremonials. He was the subject of a healing ceremony. During the summers, he did research on Navajo ethnology for the Department of Ethnology at the University of New Mexico. He did comparative research about sandpaintings, looking for similarities between the various images relating to the same ceremonies depicted in weavings. From the 1950s to the 1970s, he published information on Navajo sandpainting collections. After his retirement, he moved to Arizona where he was a curator at the Museum of Northern Arizona. Wyman has written a number of publications on the Navajo people and their customs. Leland Wyman died on January 13, 1988 at the age of 90. His papers were inherited by Charlotte Frisbie, who donated them to the Center for Southwest Research.


3 boxes (3 cu. ft.)


The materials in this collection represent Leland Wyman's research on Navajo myths and sandpaintings. It includes source material written by Gladys Reichard, Berard Haile, and Franc Newcomb, as well as illustrations of weavings by Hasteen Klah and slides of Native American arts and crafts.

Related Archival Material

Mary C. Wheelwright Autobiography and Related Materials. Center for Southwest Research, University of New Mexico Louisa Wade Wetherill Collection. Archives and Public Records. Arizona State Library.
Finding Aid of the Leland Clifton Wyman Papers on Navajo Myths and Sandpaintings, 1920-1981
Edited Full Draft
Processed by Joy Zalkind
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Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
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Language of description note
Finding aid is in English

Revision Statements

  • June 28, 2004: PUBLIC "-//University of New Mexico::Center for Southwest Research//TEXT (US::NmU::MSS 650 BC::Leland Clifton Wyman Papers on Navajo Myths and Sandpaintings)//EN" "nmu1mss650bc.sgml" converted from EAD 1.0 to 2002 by v1to02.xsl (sy2003-10-15).
  • Monday, 20210524: Attribute normal is missing or blank.

Repository Details

Part of the UNM Center for Southwest Research & Special Collections Repository

University of New Mexico Center for Southwest Research & Special Collections
University Libraries, MSC05 3020
1 University of New Mexico
Albuquerque NM 87131