Harvey Austin Begay died in Steamboat Springs on March 2, 2009, after a lengthy illness.
Harvey, a full-blooded Navajo, was born to Kenneth and Eleanor Begay in Tuba City, Ariz., on July 5, 1938. He attended Scottsdale High School in Scottsdale, Ariz., where he played basketball and football. He received a B.S. in aeronautics from Arizona State University in 1961.
After graduation, he joined the Navy, where he achieved the rank of lieutenant and was a fighter officer. It is believed that Harvey was the only Native American pilot at this time. He met his former wife, Paula Trawick, in San Diego. They were married in 1965, a union that lasted 40 years.
From 1966 to 1970, the Begays lived in St. Louis, where Harvey was a test pilot for McDonnell Douglas. He test flew Phantom jets and delivered them to various countries overseas. During one of the test flights, he and his pilot had to eject from a plane, just after take-off because of a mechanical malfunction. This flight lasted only 13 seconds and was caught on a tape as the company happened to be shooting film featuring the first Phantom jet brought back for repainting. After leaving McDonnell Douglas in 1970, the Begays moved to Window Rock, Ariz., where Harvey spent one year as director of the Southwest Indian Development Organization and one year as assistant director of Secondary Education for the Navajo Tribe.
In 1972, the Begays moved to Steamboat Springs to open The Navajo Craftsman. This was one of the first stores to open in the Gondola Square at the base of Mount Werner. By that time, the Begays had two children and a foster child from the reservation. As the son of a noted Navajo jeweler, it was natural that Harvey began to design his own jewelry, though he had never planned to go into the business. His father, Kenneth Begay, was a pioneer in merging tribal symbolism and contemporary jewelry design.
The Begays owned the Navajo Craftsman through 1979, when they sold the shop and moved to Phoenix. Harvey had an opportunity to apprentice with well-known jeweler Pierre Touraine. Harvey worked to build his reputation as a Navajo contemporary jeweler. Although they lived in Phoenix, the Begays' hearts were still in Steamboat. They returned to Steamboat each summer and eventually moved back full time in 1995.
An in-demand teacher, Harvey taught a number of classes throughout the years. Among the most meaningful and memorable was a course he taught in La Paz, Bolivia, to native metalsmiths. The course was sponsored by the Arts in America, U.S. Embassy, Quipus Foundation and The World Bank.
He was featured in numerous magazines, including National Geographic, Forbes, The American Indian Art Calendar, Town & Country, and American Indian Art. He also was featured in a number of books, including "Beyond Traditions," "Southwestern Indian Jewelry," "Enduring Traditions" and "North American Indian Jewelry."
Harvey's work has been shown in the following museum shows: Heard Museum in Phoenix, The Southwestern Museum in Los Angeles, The National Museum of the American Indian in New York, the Kentucky Art and Craft Museum in Louisville, the Owensboro Museum of Fine Art, the Ohio Craft Museum in Columbus, and the American Craft Museum in New York.
For many years, Harvey served as a board member and trustee of the Heard Museum. He also showed his work at the annual Santa Fe Indian Market for more than three decades. In 2005, Harvey was named an Arizona Living Indian Treasure. This honor is given to artists who have made a sustaining contribution to Indian arts that will support future generations and help to preserve traditional Indian cultures.
Harvey was loved for his dry sense of humor and his mischievousness. He had an eye for exquisite design, a passion for crafting fine jewelry, a love of flying and was an avid fly fisherman. For 22 years, he was a marathon runner. Fiercely competitive, Harvey's chief competition was himself.
Harvey is survived by his former wife and friend, Paula T. Begay, of Steamboat Springs; a daughter, Kamisha Begay-Siminoe and her husband, David, of Craig; and a son, Kyle Austin Begay, of Phoenix. Other survivors include his grandchildren, Tayla Jennessa Siminoe and Forrest Austin Siminoe, of Craig; sisters Shirley Etsitty, of Steamboat and Arizona, Rosalind Zah, Sylvia Radcliffe and Janice Taliwood, all of Window Rock, Ariz., Eleanor (Kay) Rogers, of Durango; and many nephews, nieces, grand-nephews and grand-nieces.
The Begay family would like to thank the many people who lifted Harvey's spirits with their outreach and numerous, thoughtful acts of caring. The outpouring of love, compassion, and sharing helped to carry them through the past eight months.
In lieu of flowers the family suggests that memorials can be made to the Arizona State University Foundation - Harvey A. Begay. There is an endowment, which is in the process of being set up to award scholarships for selected Native American students. Checks can be sent to Paula T. Begay, P.O. Box 773445, Steamboat Springs, CO 80477.
A celebration of life will be held at 3 p.m. April 5, 2009, at the Pavilion at Perry-Mansfield School of Performing Arts. Van service will be provided from the Wells Fargo Bank parking lot.