The world lost a special light on March 2, 2009. Not only was Harvey Begay cherished by the Native American art industry, Harvey was a part of American History and will never be forgotten.
Harvey Begay, son of renowned silversmith, Kenneth Begay, blends old and new to create contemporary designs in his jewelry. Kenneth Begay, Harvey’s father, was a teacher and a leader among Navajo silversmiths in the early 1940’s and 50’s. He was noted for introducing a new style that led away from the massive jewelry of that era. This gave him the title of The Father of Modern Navajo Jewelry. He died in 1977.
At first I was heavily influenced by my father, but I knew I had to change that. For a while, I struggled to find a style that I felt comfortable with. Now I feel that my pieces are a bridge between the old and the new.
— Harvey Begay
During high school and college, Harvey worked for his father at his workshop in Scottsdale, Arizona. He graduated with a bachelor’s degree in science from Arizona State University in 1961. With an ambition to fly, he joined the U.S. Navy as a flight officer. He took on two tours of duty in the far east, the second in Vietnam. As a member of Fighter Squadron 21 aboard the U.S.S. Midway, Harvey logged 800 hours and 230 carrier landings in the F4B fighter bomber.
After his years of service in the Navy, he joined McDonnell Douglas in St. Louis, as a test pilot. When he left McDonnell Douglas in 1970, he returned home to re-examine his Navajo heritage. He participated in tribal government, and returned to his silversmithing.
It was soon after that he discovered the artwork of award-winning French artist, Pierre Touraine.
I thought the more I knew about techniques and materials, the better I would be. I had made a commitment to my jewelry, but I was looking for a catalyst. Then, on a trip to Chicago, I admired some rings in the window of a gallery and found that they were made by Pierre Touraine. After talking to him, I sold my home and shop in Steamboat Springs and moved back to Phoenix to be near him. He had me enroll in a diamond correspondence course. After about a year and a half, he said you don’t need me. I began working on my own, but for the next nine months or so, I still went to Pierre with my questions. I had a lot of respect for him. Some people don’t want to share their knowledge, but he sincerely wanted to help.
— Harvey Begay
Harvey uses designs such as Yeis; the Four Directions; First Man and First Woman; as well as other legendary figures. His feather patterns are inspired by an ancient Mimbres black-on-white pottery design; and he honors his father by recreating some of his designs. Harvey works in gold and silver and does inlay work in some of his pieces. Inspired by Pierre Touraine, he also uses diamonds and other precious gemstones.
My work is speculative because I reach out where others won’t go. My task is to explore new ideas and ways to work the metal.