Begay continuing Navajo traditions


— In a small office above Lyon's Drug on Lincoln Avenue, Harvey Begay sits at a desk surrounded by shelves of tools and two tree stumps.

Begay, who is Navajo, makes contemporary Indian jewelry. He uses the tools to cut, mold and polish the metal, gold and silver pieces, and he uses the tree stumps as stands for shaping the jewelry with wooden hammers.

His store in Steamboat Springs, called Harvey A. Begay, the Navajo Craftsman, serves as Begay's center of work. The jewelry he creates using traditional Navajo techniques has been featured in more than a dozen museum shows around the nation and in articles in magazines such as "National Geographic" and "Town & Country" and is considered some of the finest contemporary Indian jewelry to date.

This weekend Begay brought his work to Art in the Park for the first time. Begay sells most of his pieces through galleries but decided to come to the show to get exposure for his own work and for his daughter's work.

Begay's daughter Kamisha Siminoe is a teacher and volunteer firefighter in Craig and has learned some jewelry making from her father. Begay may have received some of his passion for making jewelry from his father, who was an icon in Indian jewelry making.

"I love working at my bench," Begay said. "I'm just in a modern way carrying on what they did."

The pieces Begay has created range from bold gold necklaces made of linked triangular shapes to metal earrings with a basket-weave pattern.

He said he likes to use turquoise in his jewelry whenever he can. In the Navajo origin story, Begay said holy people considered turquoise to be a sacred item. Begay uses various methods to make his jewelry. In tufa casting, tufa stones or compacted volcanic stones are used as a mold into which hot metal is poured. This method dates back to the late 1890s.

The stones create a delicate texture on the metal, which provides the contrast with smoother edges Begay said he likes to put in his jewelry.

Small pieces of jewelry take about 10 hours each, while large ones take about 25 to 40 hours, Begay said. Time is the most costly thing for making the jewelry, he said. The pieces Begay is showing this weekend range in price from $160 to $7,300.

"It's a physically exhausting weekend usually," Begay said about the show. But he said it's one part of the jewelry-making profession that lets him be part of an important Navajo tradition and to continue doing what he loves.


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