Cal Nez, a Salt Lake City graphic designer, began his own business in 1986, nine years after graduating from high school. At the time, he was newly married and awaiting the birth of his first child. Though this may seem like a large risk to take, Nez simply shrugs and says, “There’s nothing dramatic about going into business on your own.”
This humble viewpoint is what has carried Nez throughout his life and on to many facets of success.
Nez, born in Tocito, N.M., was raised in the Navajo Nation by his paternal grandparents. In 1973, he left his homeland for Salt Lake City where he attended South High School. While in high school he studied graphic arts and design. He graduated as the Student of the Year and received the Sterling Scholar Award for the arts.
These accomplishments motivated Nez to pursue his passion as an artist, leading him to work for multiple graphic design companies. He worked for nine years before desiring independence, when he began Cal Nez Design in 1986.
Since then, Nez has been dedicated to “keeping that artistic aspect alive.” According to the company Web site, he has done projects for groups and companies including, the Smithsonian Institution/NMAI, 1992-1993, Navajo Nation Fair, Office of the President of the United States – Utah Republican Party, 1991, Mike Leavitt for Governor Campaign, and the 2002 Winter Olympics.
The independence he has achieved through self-employment allows Nez the flexibility to cater to his clients, and to express and highlight his Native American heritage through art. His breakthrough piece was done in oil paints and was used for the Navajo Nation Fair of Window Rock, Ariz., in September 1989. The image depicts an aged Native American man wearing a black wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses in which images are reflected of groups of Native American people at a rodeo and dancing in a red rock scene.
This image, like most of his art, shows a bit of Cal Nez while still shedding light on the client and the purpose of the particular piece. He wants to make sure his art “shows the soul of the client; not Cal Nez.” In viewing his work, however, it appears Nez shines through a bit more than he takes credit for.
For example, Nez designed the logo for the Indian Walk-In Center of Salt Lake City. The logo has many parts to it and each tells a story. The round shape of the logo represents the circle of life. Two figures on either side are eagles with wings, a traditional Native American symbol. In the center are four people, two adults and two children, standing together to create the shape of Utah.
Nez never loses enthusiasm for his work. “I love art. I love that challenge,” he said. Each project is a new challenge, and one always welcome to Cal Nez.
Statistically, Cal Nez Design stands out among graphic design businesses.
According to the October 2005 issue of Utah Business Magazine, only 450 to 500 Navajo-owned businesses exist. Out of these only 25 businesses have been around for longer than 10 years, including Cal Nez Design. Is there a secret? Nez explains he designs “for longevity.”
Adding to his accomplishments, Nez has recently been named president of the Utah Native American Chamber of Commerce, which is designed to build strength in minority businesses and bring together each Native American tribe in Utah.
Nez hopes his success will shed a positive light on Native American businesses and people, particularly the young ones. “We’ve got to teach our younger generation to be employers, not employees,” he explains. “We are here. We have a right to fill our space as human begins on earth. We are people. Our drums, our songs are still going on.”
In art, Nez continues the legacy he was born into. The art he creates and shares is not solely “a Cal Nez journey,” he said. Rather, it is “a journey of Native Americans.”
Filed under: American Indian, Arts, Entertainment, Culture, Media, Organizations, Profiles | Tagged: Cal Nez, graphic design, logo, Navajo, Navajo Nation, Utah Business Magazine, Utah Native American Chamber of Commerce |