Begay family of Navajo jewelers and their contributions to Native American jewelry craft

Begay Old Pawn

The Begays - Pioneers of Navajo Jewelry


When recognizing crucial shapers of Southwestern Native American jewelry, the surname Begay holds rightful prominence. As skilled Navajo metalsmiths beginning in the mid-1800s, the Begay family has been central to disseminating tribal jewelry techniques and designs now globally iconic. Their silver and stone pieces embody hallmarks of early Navajo style.

Earliest Begay Silversmiths


The earliest roots of Navajo jewelry took hold shortly after the 1863 Long Walk, when Diné artisans learned metalsmithing fundamentals from Spanish blacksmiths then adapted techniques into personal adornment for trade potential. As access to coins and metal grew through railroad commerce, pioneering jewelers Atsidi Begay and Bizhoes Begay White were among first Diné smiths from 1870-1900 to tastefully meld sparse tools and found objects into wearable cuffs and heavy squash blossoms. Their precise cold hammering of coins into rounded silver beads later defined vintage Navajo.

1920's Impact


Later generations raising Begay distinction came through brothers Andy and Howard Begay alongside their father Harrison Begay starting in the 1910s. As Santa Fe Railways popularized Southwestern allure, the Begay men honed their overlay by cutting gemstones and embedded Petosky stones or turquoise into hollowed coins. Their tiny shell stone inlay methods also gained praise. Andy most lastingly influenced jewelry style by co-creating the distinct "Begay blue" turquoise donut bead besides coral and white shell heishi bead necklaces still associated with classic Navajo today. His signature under-scallop bead patterns grew iconic. Howard Begay then eleated standards for prong-set stone rings and bracelets using Coin Silver in the 1930s-40s.

Modern Innovations


Contemporary Begay family smiths like Mark Bahti Begay, Loyce Willie Begay and Milton Begay Jr have retrievd acclaim for melding conventional coin silver, spectators, and channel work styles with new concepts. By forging dimensional cuffs, embedding vibrant opal and spiny oyster shell, and adopting softer textures, the Begays display dynamism within Navajo jewelry custom. Recent innovations even integrate maple, ebony and hickory wood. Continually shifting aesthetics prevent stagnation. Yet they still honor Diné foundations through silver manipulation mastery - the blocks which early Begays ensured perseverance by sharing fundamentals across clans for preservation starting in their 19th century dawn era.

Today from appraising websites like ATADA.org and leading auctioneers to Santa Fe's Museum of Indian Arts, the Begay surname conveys guarantee of authenticity and technique excellence. Their standout presence through various jewelry eras, underscored by trademark silver-working talents interwoven with stones from Diné land, affirms the Begay family are pioneers who transformed handcraft into cultural touchstone. Over a century later, they remain the bedrock essence of classic Navajo jewelry allure.

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Old Pawn Begay Bolo Ties


References

Heard Museum - Begay Family Legacy
Navajo Arts and Crafts Enterprise - Begay Family Heritage
Smithsonian NMAI - Begay Family Contributions
Turquoise Skies - History of the Begay Family
Four Winds Indian Trading Post - Begay Family Story