The Salina Bookshelf staff and family mourn the loss of the renowned Flagstaff Arizona artist author and illustrator Baje Whitehourne Sr. who died Nov 17, 2023 after a long illness. Baje Whitethorne was Lók’aa’ Dine’é and was born for Hashk’ąą Hadzohó. His maternal and paternal grandfathers are Tł’ízíłání.

His memorial service on November 21st was attended by more than 250 people. His friend Ed Kabotie sang a farewell song with the lyrics “Now I take my journey to dance among the stars. The path is set before me.”

Whitethorne grew up in Shonto, Arizona, attended Leupp Boarding School and Tuba City Boarding School. He attended Grand Canyon College and Northern Arizona University. As a child, he was fascinated by people who could draw. Whitethorne’s grandfather saw his interest in art and gave him paper to teach him how to draw a horse. When Baje ran out of paper, he would draw on the furniture. When his pencil wore down, he used a nail to draw horses on metal surfaces. Baje’s art highlighted Dine traditions: family gatherings, caring for livestock, hauling water. Each of his paintings included a small hogan and a chair, a remembrance of his late mother.

Baje Whitethorne mentored generations of young indigenous artists. He was the founder of Art of the People an indigenous artists collective which strives to share the heart story of Navajo religion, philosophy, and way of life through live-painting demonstrations. The ten culturally significant wall murals at the Twin Arrows Casino were created from this collaborative effort.

Whitethorne, was awarded the Western Heritage Wrangler Award from the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum. His work was shown at the Museum of Northern Arizona, the Smithsonian National Museum of American Indian, the Booth Western Art Museum, the Heard Museum, the Shonto Rock the Canyon Art and Music Festival, the Field Museum and the Southwestern Association for Indian Arts Santa Fe Indian Market.

Baje Whitethorne was also a printmaker, sculptor, jeweler, and storyteller. He was drawn to storytelling when he and his brothers made up stories on their way to their grandmother’s house. He illustrated nine children’s books including Little Black, a Pony Liishzhiin Yazhi a Diné language version of Walter Farley’s Little Black, a Pony. He also illustrated The Moccasin Game a story told by Don Mose with moccasin game songs sung by Jim Dandy Sr., as well as Sitka and the Raven written and illustrated in collaboration with Carl A Hammerschlag and Juanita Havill. He illustrated Monster Birds and Monster Slayer, Navajo folktales retold by Vee Browne and Beauty Beside Me Stories of my Grandmother’s Skirts by Seraphine Yazzie. He was the author and illustrator of two children’s picture books Sunpainters Eclipse of the Navajo Sun and Father’s Boots.

Baje Whitethorne is survived by his wife Priscilla C. Whitethorne. Together they had three children: Blaine and Taina and the late Bahe “Buddy” Whitethorne Jr.

We celebrate his life and the network of artists, readers and community members who listened to his stories, viewed his works of art and gained new vision for the community through his life and work.