It is not uncommon for creative men and women to feel called from early youth to be an artist. Michael Naranjo certainly experienced an actual sense of vocation to become an artist as a small boy growing up in the Santa Clara Pueblo and in Taos. To some extent the experience may have its roots in the creativity of his mother. She was a potter who made use of her son's energy in preparing clay. Naranjo relates how he would dance on his mother's raw clay until his feet had sufficiently kneaded the clay. Naranjo easily recalls that he knew from his earliest years that he should become what his mother already was.
In 1968 Naranjo's dream seemed to collapse entirely. While serving in Vietnam, he sustained major injuries from an exploding grenade. He lost the use of his right hand; the explosion blinded him permanently in both eyes. The artist believed that his career in fine art was gone forever. While he lay in a hospital in Japan where his injuries were being treated, Naranjo somehow summoned the courage and self-possession to ask for a lump of clay from which he fashioned a small figure.
The experience of the lump of clay was galvanic for Naranjo. He had taken an art class as a high school student in Taos and knew then that he wanted to be an artist. He did not begin to sculpt however until after he returned from Vietnam. The loss of his sight in some way called to Naranjo to reach into a resource within himself which he had known only imperfectly. The experience of touching that truth has since defined Naranjo's life.
For more than 30 years Naranjo has fashioned figures of clay which are then cast in bronze. Guided by a sense of touch and keen intuition alone, he has produced works of splendid artistry.
Naranjo has become widely recognized as well. The Italian government allowed Naranjo to mount a specially-built scaffold and to come into actual physical contact with Michelangelo's David in Florence. Naranjo has consequently pursued the establishment of hands-on museum experiences for disabled persons in many U.S. cities and museums including the Heard Museum in Phoenix and Indianapolis's Eiteljorg Museum of American Indian and Western Art. He has become a mentor for an entire generation of artists, for the disabled and the sighted alike. In 1983 Naranjo was received by Pope Paul VI, who accepted a gift of Naranjo's Going Home. He presented his Dance of the Eagle to Richard Nixon, a piece which is now in the permanent collection of the White House.
Naranjo's work has been widely exhibited in U.S. galleries and has received many commissions and awards. In 1979 his Santa Clara Rain Dancer was awarded First Prize, Best in Class and Best in Division at the Santa Fe Indian Market. He was honored in 1990 with the Distinguished Achievement Award from the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. In 1999 he was the LIFE Foundation's Presidential Unsung Hero. In 2004, he was the recipient of the Santa Fe Rotary Foundation's Distinguished Art Award.