Square Wire and Coral Butterfly Bracelet
5 1/4" and 1" opening
How John Begay can take twisted square and bead wire to create the impression of something so fragile and delicate as a butterfly is difficult to imagine. With a touch of natural Mediterranean coral and a few well-placed silver beads, the illusion is complete. John’s bracelet may be a facsimile of the original, but the end result is much more durable and endearing.
John Begay Junior, Silversmith: A quietly modest and unassuming man, John Begay Jr. does not personally sign his work. Instead he uses the Monsterslayer figure - a mythical being from Navajo legend- as his hallmark. Being a silver smith is John's chosen profession, something he has had to work at. He has been working at it for a quarter century and his jewelry reflects his experience and love for his art. Each piece is uniquely his. One does not need to see the Monsterslayer hallmark to recognize John's special style and excellent craftsmanship, his pieces speak for themselves.
The son of Navajo migrant workers, John Begay Junior's upbringing was anything but traditional. He was born in Phoenix, Arizona, during the winter harvest months there. Until he was 12 years old, his parents stayed in Phoenix during the winter and returned to their native land in northern New Mexico for the summer. While in Phoenix they lived in a community made up of Navajo migrant workers, where Christianity was a big influence.
When John was twelve, they moved back home to the Four Corners area for good. John attended high school in Shiprock, New Mexico. His parents did some silversmithing, as did his aunts and uncles. One uncle was renowned for his excellence. John asked this uncle to teach him. The uncle wanted to be paid for lessons, but John could not afford them. So he began working on his own, devising tools and methods as he went.
When John took some of his jewelry into a trading post to sell it, the trader shied away from the elaborate leaf pattern John had created, but instantly recognized the careful construction and soldering of the pieces.
John's early work soon evolved into a style combining classic and contemporary Navajo with a Byzantine look. It has the feel of old style jewelry, and yet it is unlike anything ever before created. It is diametric inasmuch as it is detailed and intricate but still has simple lines. He has won several blue ribbons at the Gallup Inter-Tribal Ceremonials competitions, especially for his unique earring designs.
Married, with a nearly grown son, John spends
most of his time working on jewelry. As he lies in bed at night, he
thinks of designs and ideas to use. When he gets an idea he has a hard
time going to sleep because he gets excited about working on it, bringing
the concept into reality.
At the urging of many of his admirers, he has been expanding his considerable skills by working solely in gold and in combinations of sterling and gold, an experience he finds both intimidating and rewarding. One of his winning pieces has become a classic - a "spider" bracelet made of silver, adorned with gold balls. In spite of that enlarged success, John still prefers silver.
Although he was raised a Christian, John has reclaimed much of his Navajo heritage. Now, as he does his work, he prays over it in the Navajo fashion. He says that he prays his work will go well. He also desires blessings on those who display his work and especially blessings on the purchaser of the jewelry, that they will be pleased and satisfied in wearing it.
John does not mass produce jewelry, as many of his counterparts do. He puts loving skill and spirit into each piece, making his masterpieces unique in more ways than ever.