Published on June 8, 2013 by Amy
Born on the Navajo Reservation, Darryl Dean Begay was raised in the traditional Navajo way of life. He is from a family of artists; his grandmother was a weaver and his grandfather a ceremonial sandpainter. It is from this background that his art emerges, creating one-of-a-kind, limited edition jewelry in sterling silver and gold. His uncle Bobby Begay, a Native American Church medicine man, helped teach him jewelrymaking. Working with him in the summer of 1997 changed his life. “I was pursuing a college education, studying accounting and business,” said Darryl. “My uncle was going to a show in Colorado and he asked me to help him get ready.” Darryl was shown the old style technique of tufa casting used by Navajo silversmiths.
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Tufa casting requires that a reverse of the design be carved into tufa (a porous sandstone) and then molten silver poured into it. His uncle told him about artists from the past, who would melt down U.S. silver dollars, Mexican pesos and old jewelry to pour into the molds. Darryl learned how to carve the stone and began making bracelets.
“At the show I met a Navajo watercolor painter, Bill Russ Lee. I liked one of his paintings, so after the show I asked him if he would be interested in trading. He looked at my bracelets and asked me how long I had been doing this work. I told him it was my first attempt. He told me they were ‘good for the first time’ and that he ‘saw potential’ in my work. He gave me a really good painting, but it was his words that encouraged me to continue.”
Returning to school in Phoenix, and working part time, Darryl yearned to make more jewelry. He saved his money until he had enough to buy a stone grinder, cutters and basic silversmith tools. “I just dove in,” said Darryl. “I didn’t know what to expect, but I wanted to create. My uncle said I had a choice — to do production work or put my own art into the work. I told him I wanted to create my own niche.”
Darryl learned lapidary work from Raymond C. Yazzie. “I owe a lot to other artists who have given their time to help me. Raymond showed me how to select the highest quality stones and how to set them. I’ve found that the stone has its own spirit, and often chooses its own place in a piece.” Now Darryl adds high-grade stones to finish the work — turquoise from Nevada and Arizona, as well as coral, lapis, sugilite, anulite ruby, opals and more.
Darryl is committed to creating his own expressive art that incorporates his Navajo culture and original designs. “I want people to see that my art comes from inside . . . from the heart. Each piece has its own spirit, its own life. Recently I began carving figures in silver of ‘The People’,” says Darryl. “As an artist and a Navajo, I want to let people know who I am and who ‘The People’ are and to understand that each tribe has its own name for themselves. Ours is Dineh.”
From Myron Panteah, Darryl learned how to use patinas to bring out colors on the silver. He uses this technique on his blanket designs and accents in his figures. Darryl’s work is exciting. His openness to new techniques and willingness to share his rich heritage make him an artist to watch. In a very short time, Darryl has become well recognized for his exceptional skill and talent as an artist and jeweler.
Darryl lives in Gallup, New Mexico with his wife Rebecca and their two young sons. An art teacher, Rebecca now works with Darryl and creates her own jewelry. Together they share their love of art, giving workshops for the local grade schools and organizations. “I want to help young artists, just as other artists have helped me,” says Darryl. This is well received from an artist who is also a culture-bearer and part of the living traditions of his People.