In Memoriam: Pablita Ta-Nez-Bah Abeyta

Pablita Ta-Nez-Bah Abeyta
July 20, 1953 – January 31, 2017

New Mexico native and renowned sculptor Pablita Ta-Nez-Bah Abeyta died on Jan. 31, 2017, at her home in Washington, D.C. She was 63 years old. Ms. Abeytaa was born in Gallup, N.M., on July 20, 1953, to Narciso Ha-So-De Abeyta, and Sylvia Ann (Shipley) Abeyta. She earned a master’s degree in public affairs from the University of New Mexico in 1983.

Abeyta wearing turquoise necklace with doll-like sculptures

Pablita Ta-Nez-Bah Abeyta poses with some of her sculptures in 2002.

After moving to Washington, D.C. to work as a lobbyist for the Navajo Nation’s Washington office, she was a leader in efforts to enact tribal amendments to federal environmental statutes such as the Clean Water Act.

From 1986 to 1991, Ms. Abeyta worked in the U.S. Congress for Colorado Rep. Ben Nighthorse Campbell, and in the Office of Indian Affairs under Rep. Mo Udall of Arizona. She played a key role in legislation to establish the National Museum of the American Indian within the Smithsonian Institution.

She began her Smithsonian career in 1991 in the Office of Governmnet Affairs. During the planning and construction of NMAI, Ms. Abeyta’s work was instrumental in crucial legislation and fundraising, and she was special assistant to the musuem’s directors until her retirement in 2011. She received numerous awards at NMAI, including Employee of the Year, an award since renamed in her honor.

Named for her grandmother, Pablita’s Abeyta’s Navajo name Ta-Nez-Bah translates as “One Who Completes a Circle.” Her name and native heritage are reflected in her prize-winning sculptures, many of which were smooth, round and sensuous. Often her sculptures depicted women from her culture, reflecting the strength, beauty, and serenity of native women, who in life were her mentors and inspiration.

Ms. Abeyta’s was included in an exhibition at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History, and her sculptures are held in the permanent collection of the National Museum of the American Indian.

Ms. Abeyta is survived by her partner, Shaun Conway, formerly of Mancos. N.M.; brothers Tony Abeyta, and Tom Warder (Judy); sisters Benita Cooper, Alice Seely (David); and four nephews and seven nieces. She is preceded in death by her parents; her sisters Elizabeth and Rosemary Abeyta; brother-in-law Robert Cooper and two nephews.

Posted: 4 April 2017
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