Meet Artist Nathan Chavarria—El Malpais Community Art Program
Nathan Chavarria, or Pae Ping, is from Santa Clara Pueblo, New Mexico, which in Tewa Khaʼpʼoe Ówîngeh means “Singing Water Village.” Santa Clara is a Tewa pueblo that is a part of the Eight Northern Pueblos, situated near the Rio Grande between Ohkay Owingeh to the north and San Ildefonso Pueblo to the South.
Nathan is 12 years old and in the 7th grade at the Santa Fe Indian School. He has been doing art for as long as he can remember, saying it is a passion and outlet to show how he is feeling. Nathan has had his work displayed at the Santa Fe Folk Art Museum and has won many awards for his work at the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center in Albuquerque—such a great feat for such a young individual! Beyond art, he enjoys going fishing, hunting, participating in his Native culture, and playing football and baseball. He has a dog named Wheeler and loves spending time with him too.
When speaking about himself, Nathan showed great passion for being outdoors, noting that “in my art, I like to capture the natural beauty our Mother Earth has to offer.” Nathan primarily uses acrylic paints, canvas, paint brushes, and a spray bottle with water to complete his work.
When the conversation turned to Nathan’s inspirations and who influenced his desire to make art, he credits his Aunt Alisha, as well as Bob Ross as, “they both have taught me skills that I use in my artwork. I also learned techniques from my aunt, Alisha.”
For all young people that were still growing through COVID-19, times could get a little difficult. Nathan found healthy ways to cope by focusing on art and painting, saying, “painting helps me cope with different things and is an outlet for expressing myself.”
During the lockdowns, Nathan found himself watching a lot of Bob Ross and drew inspiration from a painter that motivated generations of artists. He talks reflectively about that time and how it influenced his desire to pursue art:
I have always been creating art, drawing, painting, and taking pictures, but my school was remote for two years. I stayed home, only saw my immediate family, I didn’t travel, and I didn’t interact with many people. I started watching YouTube videos on Bob Ross and began to take painting more seriously. I enjoyed watching his videos and learning different painting techniques from him.
In describing his inspiration for natural themes in his work, Nathan noted his great reverence for nature and his connection to the outdoors even in daily life, stating:
Water is precious to all living things, mountains are our protectors and homelands to animals, and trees provide natural resources to use such as clean air and fuel for our fireplace to keep us warm in the winter. I am an advocate for being outdoors as much as possible and teach our people that it is our responsibility to maintain the forests and not litter. Be mindful these are lands given to us now and once they are gone, it will take years to restore and grow back.
The Landscape, Nathan Chavarria. “The landscape with the mountains makes me happy because one of my favorite places to be is outdoors hunting, fishing, gathering wood, picking piñon, and hiking. In order to have a healthy lifestyle we need nature and respect all that it provides to us. Always remember how important nature is and how we need to respect it because it provides so much to us humans. I want to make sure that forests are here for future generations, my kids and my grandkids.”
He went on to describe how he spends his time outdoors, noting: “I like going hunting with my older brother, Brandon, fishing, riding my horse, and participating in my culture. I like painting trees, lakes, rivers, and the sky. I see most of these things every day and it makes me feel good to capture it by painting.”
The Bear, Nathan Chavarria. “The bear is strong and needs a clean forest to survive. The environment needs to be able to provide for the bear. The bear needs food, shelter, clean water to drink, and fish to eat. The bear is important to many cultures. We need to conserve the bear life sustainability and by doing so we need to clean up after ourselves when we’re out in nature and leave wild animals alone when we see them in their homelands.”
After the 2011 Las Conchas fire affected many forested areas in Santa Clara Pueblo, scars on the land are still visible today. With the threat of wildfire fresh in memory from the nearby Cerro Pelado fire last year, Nathan is looking to the past and the future for answers and inspiration, expressing his desire to paint what a certain canyon looked like before this devastating time:
I was fortunate to enjoy and witness our canyon, there were wildfires that destroyed it, but when I look at the mountains and take a cruise with my family to the canyon, I ask a lot of questions about how the canyon looked and when I paint, I want to paint what the canyon used to look like and how I want to see it in the future.
This inquisitive young man has big plans for the future, but always seeks to tie his work into his community and the landscape around it. He went on to describe his ideas for continuing in the arts, saying: “I want to be a famous painter and want to go to an art school after high school. I continue to paint and sell my artwork at local arts and craft shows. I like how my family and community support me and my talent. I hope that I am able to paint more of my community lands and share with the world.”
Nathan is passionate about his culture and continues to speak his native language. “I love my family and I want to make them proud.”
When speaking about creating art to share at El Malpais he says, “One of my proudest moments was being able to share my artwork and give people I love a part of me by giving them a painting and being able to have my artwork selected to be on display at the El Malpais Ranger Station.“
The Public Lands Interpretive Association is grateful for Nathan’s contributions to the art program, and for sharing his perspectives and inspirations as well as his art.