Art on Wheels

Dead Pawn Skateboards | By Paul Morris

When you hear Leander Begay talk about skateboards, you hear excitement creep into his voice. Born in Keams Canyon, Arizona (population 304) on the Hopi Reservation, Begay grew up near Farmington, New Mexico. That’s where he learned to skateboard with his buddies in middle school. Between them they shared a single skateboard, banging around sidewalks, patios, or anywhere they could find smooth concrete. 

Begay continued to skate, and in high school he found himself in an art class. He had always been doodling on the sides of his written assignments, notebook covers, and sheets of paper. His teacher noticed and began to give this skateboarding kid ideas and artistic direction, teaching him how to paint, sketch, and work with pencils, charcoal, and ink. This teacher was tough. “He really demanded that I work hard. He challenged me to try different things all the time,” says Begay. He became an important influence in Begay’s life, showing him that he could be successful if he worked at it. He listened and continues to work at his art to this day.

Colorful artwork from Dead Pawn Skateboards
Characteristically colorful graphics by Begay

Now in his 40s and living in Mesa, Begay still loves skateboarding, although an automobile accident resulted in a metal pin in one leg that begins to hurt after half an hour on a board. He also still doodles and works on his art. He’s created a company that combines two loves of his life: art and skateboards.

Dead Pawn Skateboards features Begay’s art on skateboard decks, longboards, fashion (T-shirts and sweatshirts), and fine art prints. (Dead Pawn refers to things you pawn and never get back.) Begay’s artwork is colorful, and the images combine elements of life on the reservation. You can see feathered headdresses, desert animals, and even things from Navajo storytelling. “I also bring in visual ideas from different Native American tribes,” says Begay. “Things from the Plains people and elsewhere.” The resulting artwork demonstrates masterful technique and skill. Everything is sold online and can be viewed on his website and on Instagram (@deadpawnskateboards).