Courtesy Molly Meshigaud
Shadow box feather paintings by Ambrose Peshlakai. On right he made for his Uncle who was a Navajo Code Talker, Francis Thompson. On Left, an eagle feather painting with original beadwork handprint on the background - his signature on all his feather paintings.

One Man’s Red Road Journey Opened to a World of Art and Healing

Brenda Austin

A Dine’ with family roots deep in the soil of the Navajo Indian Reservation in New Mexico, Ambrose Peshlakai took his first drink of beer at the age of four sitting on the front steps of his grandfather’s house. Today he is a respected elder and award-winning artist, and has been in recovery for more than 25 years.

Following the Red Road and finding the Creator, who he believed was lost to him, were fuzzy things he knew he should pursue, but he found himself instead turning to drinking and drugs.

Peshlakai grew up in Albuquerque, his was the only Native American family he remembers amongst Hispanic and white families and classmates. By the time he graduated from high school in 1972, he was either drinking or looking for his next drink.

He eventually moved to Denver where, between bouts of drinking and using, he attended an engineering college and was able to complete two certificate programs. He was a natural artist with no ambition in that direction until he took up technical illustration and commercial architectural drafting; where he learned how to air brush, use pencil, pen, pastels and oils. He also dabbled in sculpting, hoping to design log and adobe homes and sculpt stone fireplace mantels.

While in Denver, he made a friend who was in and out of recovery and attending AA meetings. Deciding maybe he did need help, he checked himself into a four-month treatment program in 1989 at the Eagle Lodge, where he found himself surrounded by other Native American men also struggling with dependence issues. It was there he was re-introduced to his culture, sweat lodge ceremonies, drumming and dancing – and his art. “Back then my thinking was I had a roof over my head, I didn’t really realize the drinking was a problem until I started going to group sessions and one on one counseling. I started choking up and admitted that maybe I did have a problem with drinking and using. The disease was very strong,” he said.


You need to be logged in in order to post comments
Please use the log in option at the bottom of this page



Michael Madrid's picture
Michael Madrid
Submitted by Michael Madrid on
I credit art and literature for getting me through a myriad of problems in my life and I heartily recommend them to anyone who feels empty or lost. The best thing about art is the freedom of expression that it allows a person. That enough can keep a person sane.