A major reference book on Native jewelry states that “Vernon Begaye is a Navajo jeweler whose individual vision sets him apart from tradition while retaining the cultural origins that inspired (him)….” This spectacular necklace is an example of his singular vision and traditional skills.
Variations of colors, shapes, and textures, along with the highest quality, natural, stones – along with a surprise from another culture – artfully meld a robust, modern sensibility and a reverence for the past.
The main piece supported by the handmade silver chain, is the large and fascinating pendant. On a broad trapezoid base of silver, m array of different materials, all natural, is arranged in a seemingly random pattern.
Look closely, and there a subtle abstraction of a Yei’s face appears. The horizontal piece of ironwood at the top left represents the spirit’s ye, while the little red coral bead, set in a silver circle, is the traditional shape of the mouth.
A raised step design is seen in the textured silver, just below the eye, signifying rain. The beautiful, high quality stones are not only esthetic, but traditionally symbolic.
Red and pink coral, and rosy rhodolite, are colors of the earth, while the various turquoise and lapis pieces symbolize the sky and water.
The wavy silver bar at the very top is like a river. Water, and the balance of nature, are the most common prayers, in Navajo lore.
A gracefully tapered, Morenci turquoise is attached to the bottom of the pendant, while a similarly tapered inlaid piece interrupts the chain, slightly above.
This element is also subtly figural, with another handsome, natural turquoise for the head, and spotted shell and mother of pearl pieces inlaid for the body.
Then, we come to the surprise: balancing this inlaid figure, on the other side of the chain, is a shard of antique Chinese pottery, part of a dish, probably.
This insertion of an element totally alien to Navajo culture is unusual, but Vernon is known for being unconventional.
The choice of this piece of pottery is intriguing, both visually, and metaphorically. A sign that ancient cultures are related? That art knows no boundaries? Or, just that he liked the look?
Vernon’s award-winning work is made with great expertise, and is always distinctive. This fantastic necklace is a splendid, one-of-a-kind, conversation starter.