Gerald Nailor, Sr.

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QUAIL by Gerald Nailor, 1951. Note the stylized sideoats grama grass in the background. This is a silkscreen print, created by Nailor and Harrison Begay's Tewa Enterprises printing firm.[1]

Gerald Nailor, Sr. (1917–1952) or Toh Yah (Navajo: Tóyá) was a Navajo Studio painter from Picurís, New Mexico.[2] Beginning in 1942, he was commissioned to paint the history of the Navajo people for a large mural at the Navajo Nation Council Chamber, which has been designated a National Historic Landmark.


Gerald Nailor Sr. was born in 1917 in Pinedale, New Mexico; his Navajo name is Toh Yah (Walking By the River). He enrolled in the Albuquerque Indian School from 1930 to 1934.[3] After that he attended the Santa Fe Indian School, where he studied art under Dorothy Dunn from 1935 to 1937.[4] After working under Dunn, Nailor spent a year studying with Kenneth Chapman and the Swedish muralist Olle Nordmark.

Marriage and family[edit]

He met his future wife, who was working as a nurse at the Santa Fe Indian Hospital. Upon marrying, they relocated to Picuris Pueblo, New Mexico, where they reared their five children. Their son Gerald Nailor also became an artist.


In 1937, with his good friend the artist Allan Houser, he set up a studio in Santa Fe to paint and work on his silkscreen prints.[1]

With fellow-artist and classmate Harrison Begay, Nailor founded "Tewa Enterprises", an art publishing firm specializing in Native American art, especially that of the two founders. Tewa Enterprises became known for the high quality of their silkscreen prints.[1]

In 1939, Nailor, Houser and Velino Shije Herrera were commissioned by the WPA to paint a large mural, which is still installed in the Main Interior Building in Washington, D.C.[5]

In 1942, Nailor was selected for the commission for a mural for the Navajo Nation Council Chamber in Window Rock, Arizona, to depict the history of the Navajo people. He was one of thousands who applied for the job, which officials expected to take take 3–5 years. In 2004, the building (and its mural) was declared a National Historic Landmark.[6]

Works by Nailor are held by the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the National Gallery of Art, the Museum of the American Indian and the Denver Art Museum.[1]

External links[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d "Gerald Nailor", Art of the Print
  2. ^ Lester, 382
  3. ^ Pohl, Frances K. (2008). Framing America: A Social History of American Art (2nd ed.). Thames & Hudson Inc. p. 395. ISBN 978-0-500-28715-6. 
  4. ^ Fahlman, Betsy (2009). New Deal Art in Arizona. University of Arizona Press. p. 68. ISBN 978-0-8165-2292-7. 
  5. ^ Brief Bio
  6. ^ Navajo Nation Council Chamber, at National Park Service.


  • Lester, Patrick D. The Biographical Directory of Native American Painters. Norman and London: The Oklahoma University Press, 1995. ISBN 0-8061-9936-9.
  • "Brief Biography." Gerald Nailor.Com. Ed. Dane Vierow. 29 May 2007.
  • "Gerald Nailor Interview." Personal interview. 26 Apr. 2009. Interview about Gerald Nailor, Sr.