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Artists' Biographies

Artist Biographies

Following are short biographies of some of the artists we commonly have in stock. Bios are listed alphabetically by last name.

BEGAY, JOHNNY MIKE (Navajo, active until around 1976). The brother of Kenneth Begay, and an incredibly talented and creative silversmith in his own right. Also worked at the White Hogan for a time.

BEGAY, KENNETH (Navajo, 1913-1977). A student of Fred Peshlakai at Fort Wingate. He is now considered to be the father of modern Navajo silversmithing, and one of the most technically proficient silversmiths ever to work in the Southwest. His most prolific period was from 1948 to 1962, when he was a bench smith at the White Hogan in Scottsdale along with his cousins Allen, George and Ivan Kee. The Kees and Begay are credited with simplifying the designs of Navajo silverwork, and bringing it into the modern age. They also popularized the use of ironwood in silver.

COOCHWYTEWA, VICTOR (Hopi, 1922-2011). One of the first generation of Hopi overlay artists who learned from Paul Saufkie Sr. and Fred Kabotie in 1949. He had a long and productive career, both as a shop smith for Kopavi in Sedona after 1974 and previously with the Hopi Silvercrafts Guild. His flattened raincloud hallmark with five rain lines can be confused with other artists' hallmarks, but his quality and creativity is very distinctive.

DAWAHOYA, BERNARD (Hopi, 1937-2010). Possibly the best of the second generation of Hopi overlay silversmiths, he began making jewelry in 1950 after learning from his uncles Washington Talayumptewa and Sidney Secakuku. He opened his own shop at Hopi in 1960, and made his distinctive pieces (always without turquoise settings) there for many years.

DEYUSE, LEEKYA (Zuni, 1889-1966). Commonly known as Leekya. Known as "Old Man Leekya" and the grand master of Zuni fetish carving, his carvings have a subtlety and softness of line that distinguishes them from the work of others. He also did very good inlay work early in his career. Never used any sort of hallmark, but his work is quite distinctive.

KEE, ALLEN (Navajo, 1916-1972). Cousin of Kenneth Begay and brother of George and Ivan. An extremely talented silversmith, nearly the equal of his more famous cousin. He worked on the White Hogan bench from 1948 to the early 1960s, and his work is often indistinguishable from that of Begay except for the hallmark.

KEE, GEORGE (Navajo, 1930-1980). Brother of Allen and Ivan and cousin of Kenneth Begay. He also worked at the White Hogan while Allen and Begay were there, and his work shows the same care and skill.

KEE, IVAN (Navajo, 1936-1982). The youngest of the three Kee brothers who worked at the White Hogan with Kenneth Begay. Ivan also worked on his own, and his extremely varied and creative pieces are normally found without the White Hogan mark.

LEAK, JOHN GORDON (Zuni, active 1920s-1950). A very skilled inlay artist, who is best known for figures inlaid into a black background. Others at Zuni also used this technique, but Leak's work stands above them all. His real name was probably John Leekity.

LOLOMA, CHARLES (Hopi, 1921-1991). The best-known jewelry artist among Indians of the Southwest, his fame transcends the American Indian world. His use of new materials and designs revolutionized jewelry making in the Southwest, and his work commands prices far beyond those of any other artist. (For the complete story of his life and work, we stock the book LOLOMA.)

LOMAY, LEWIS (Hopi, 1914-1996). A very creative and skilled silversmith, well-known for his modern, clean designs. One of Frank Patania Sr.'s greatest apprentices, and the influence is clear in Lomay's fine finishes and slightly European aesthetics.

LOVATO, JULIAN (Santo Domingo, born 1925). The favorite apprentice of Frank Patania Sr.--when Patania died in 1964, Lovato received his thunderbird hallmark. His work has a very Danish modern feel to it, due to the time he spent with Patania.

MONONGYE, PRESTON (Hopi, 1927-1987). Though born to Mexican and Mission Indian parents, he was adopted into the Monongye family at Hopi as a young boy and was always very vocal about how much being Hopi meant to him. He was considered, along with Loloma, as the most important figure in the "New Indian Jewelry" movement of the 1970s. His greatest skill was in casting silver pieces, a technique at which he had few equals. Due to health problems, his production was not as great as that of Loloma and Begay, the other two great post-1950 Southwestern Masters.

PATANIA, FRANK SR. (Sicilian, 1899-1964). The only non-native jeweler TMT regularly carries, and a seminal figure in the silverwork of the Southwest. He came to Santa Fe in 1924, and eventually opened stores in Santa Fe and Tucson that both employed Native silversmiths. He was a teacher and mentor to an entire generation of Indian silversmiths, including Joe H. Quintana, Lewis Lomay and Julian Lovato--all of whom carried his melding of European techniques and designs with Southwestern forms and materials in new and innovative directions.

PESHLAKAI, FRED (Navajo, active 1920s-1950s). The son or nephew of Slender Maker of Silver, one of the earliest Navajo silversmiths. Peshlakai was one of the first smiths to hallmark his work, though he usually did so only on request. He taught Kenneth Begay while at the Fort Wingate school, and later opened up his own shop on Olvera Street in Los Angeles. His pieces are very technically precise and elaborate, sometimes even to the point of seeming Mexican, and his turquoise is always of the highest quality. (One of his hallmarks was an FP superimposed on an arrow--an old story was that the left pointing arrow was the hallmark of his brother Frank, while the right pointing arrow was Fred's hallmark. According to Lauris Phillips, this is untrue--they were both Fred's hallmark.)

POBLANO, LEO (Zuni, 1905-1959). Probably the most talented Zuni mosaic inlay artist ever. Only worked in mosaic inlay, though many channel inlay pieces are misattributed to him. He was a master at using raised pieces of stone to give his figures a sculptural quality. Never used a hallmark, though one piece in the Heard Museum has his name engraved on the back.

QUINTANA, JOE H. (Cochiti, 1915-1991). One of the finest Pueblo silversmiths of the 20th Century, and another one of Patania's outstanding apprentices. Much of his work is quite similar to that of Lomay and Lovato, the other great Patania proteges. Particularly loved clean designs with deeply filed decoration.

ROANHORSE, AMBROSE (Navajo, active 1920s-1950). Best known as a teacher, who influenced a whole generation of silversmiths while working at the Santa Fe Indian School. He also demonstrated at the Golden Gate Exposition in 1939, and in front of Eleanor Roosevelt at the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 1941. Teaching obligations kept down his production, but his pieces are always exceptionally and creatively made.

ROBINSON, MORRIS (Hopi, active 1920s-1960s). One of the first Hopi smiths to hallmark his work, and a mentor to Charles Loloma when both were living in Phoenix in the 1950s. Especially well known for flatware.

SIMPLICIO, DAN (Zuni, 1917-1969). His work is the most distinctive of all the Zuni silversmiths. He was best known for setting nuggets of turquoise and uncut branches of coral into silver, though he also did some inlay work. His pieces often show stamped silver balls interspersed among the stones. His later pieces are sometimes hallmarked, though his unique style makes identifying his work relatively easy even without the hallmark. (His family worked in a similar style for some time after his death, but using lighter silver and lesser turquoise.)

TAWANGYAOUMA, RALPH (Hopi, 1906-1973). Usually called "Ralph T", for obvious reasons. (Which brings to mind the old joke: what does a Hopi man give to his wife on their wedding day that's long and hard? His name.) Another of the early Hopi smiths who used a hallmark, and like Robinson his career was long. He made jewelry out of a shop in Phoenix for a time in the 1950s, but spent most of his life at Hotevilla on Third Mesa. Community obligations took up most of his time, so his work is quite uncommon.

THOMPSON, FRED (Navajo, active 1950s-1990s). A longtime smith for Tobe Turpen in Gallup, and one of the best "old-style" silversmiths of the modern period. His work is characterized by stampwork, heavy silver, and very fine stones.

VACIT, FRANK (Zuni, 1915-late 1990s). Possibly the greatest Zuni channel inlay master, and one of the only early Zuni silversmiths to sometimes use a hallmark. His ability to set delicate designs in narrow silver channels was unsurpassed.

WEAHKEE, TEDDY (Zuni, c. 1890-1965). Well respected as both a fetish carver and a mosaic inlay artist. His inlay work tends to make extensive use of dot inlay, a very difficult technique not used by many other artists.

WILSON, AUSTIN (Navajo, active 1930-1950s). One of the great Navajo artists employed by C. G. Wallace to do silverwork, and one of the first Navajo smiths to regularly use a hallmark. Especially known for his great stampwork and distinctive stamps, which he made himself.

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