Tribute to the ancestors
By Marley Shebala
Condensed by Native Village
If Darryl Dean Begay's
great-grandfather, Deschiinii Sani, had
not returned from Hwééldi (Place of
Suffering), his descendent wouldn't be
And so could not have won
the top prize at the 88th Annual Santa Fe Indian
A silver concho belt created by Darryl
and his wife Rebecca became the first
piece of jewelry in years to win the
"Best in Show" award.
Darryl's great grandfather who gave them
the theme for their entry, "Return From
the Long Walk." The belt is a
story of Deschiinii and other Navajos
who managed to survive the Navajo long
march and 4-years internment at
Fort Sumner, N.M., before returning
Altogether, "Return From the Long Walk" has 15 conchos,
each 3 inches high, and the buckle.
Twelve conchos are human figures,
each with a piece of turquoise set in
the face. The single set of turquoise is
Begay's artistic signature.
"And like my grandpa use to say, you're
suppose to have a piece of turquoise
with you so the Holy Ones recognize
you," said Darryl, who is Yé'ii dine'é
Táchii'nii (Giant People division of the
Red Running into Water Clan), born for
Ta'neeszahnii (Tangle Clan).
Together the conchos tell the story of
the Navajos' return from Hwééldi. The
buckle shows a Navajo man walking west
and leading a young girl. Her mother,
grandmother, and two children are riding a
horse. The grandmother carries a baby in
a cradleboard on her back.
In the background is the sacred mountain, Tsoodzil, which marks the southernmost
point of Dinétah, the land given to the
Navajos by the Holy Ones. There is also
a Rainbow Yé'ii (Holy One), and
petroglyphs on the ground where the
people are walking. The rock art
represents prayers, Begay said.
The extensive detail, textured surfaces
and dense symbolism are characteristic
of Begay's jewelry, which is carried at
galleries throughout the Southwest.
Each intricately detailed concho was
created from a cast carved in tufa
stone, which is made of compressed
volcanic ash. The technique ensures
one-of-a-kind creations, because the
stone is destroyed as the silver casting
Darryl, who is from Round Rock, Ariz.,
learned the art of tufa casting from his
uncle, Bobby Begay, and the influences
Raymond C. Yazzie and Myron Panteah.
Three years ago, his wife Rebecca joined
in, and now both are creating art
full-time from their studio in Gallup.
Together they have taken tufa casting,
one of the oldest jewelry techniques
used by the Navajos, to new heights of
The Begays have won a number
of prestigious awards. Last year a
sterling silver seed pot by Rebecca won
best of jewelry and best miniature
awards at the Santa Fe Indian Market.
Their work also appears in serious books
on Native art.