Published in the Hobbs News-Sun Dec. 3, 2006, and by the Associated Press.
LOVINGTON -- In his travels Shane Beer wears a piece of his Navajo heritage around his neck.
The jewelry-making trade has been passed down in Beer's family throughout the generations. An example is the dark-colored beads he crafted in which he's incorporated a piece of his daughter's hair. The jewelry-making trade also involves bead making, where he shapes, cuts and creates designs in silver.
This craft dates back to his great-grandfather, but the 53-year-old Lovington man has been pursuing it since 1971. His desire to pursue jewelry making started with his mother, Donna Gatewood, who is a Navajo silversmith, potter and beader. Gatewood learned the jewelry trade from her uncle, Clarence Sousea.
Traditionally Navajos use clay, porcupine quills, animal hair and old coins made by American and Spanish people in making the beads in their jewelry. Beer usually uses deer horn, horse hair, pomegranate blossoms, turquoise, onyx, wood or feather quills in his jewelry.
Nowadays there aren't that many Navajo bead makers, Beer said. The jewelry is relatively difficult to make. It typically takes a lot of effort and patience to lay out the beads and stamp them. It takes weeks to finish one necklace. His jewelry costs $60 and up.
"It's part of a beautiful way of life," he said about why he felt a need to preserve his Navajo traditions and heritage. "They do so much with so little. It's kind of a challenge to see if I can do it."
Traditional craft items
In addition to jewelry making, Beer has learned other Navajo crafts from his mother. About 15 years ago he learned how to stage blast glass. This is a method of etching that allows artists to carve deeply into the material.
She also taught him how to cast three years ago.
Many Indian cultures use sand in creating their casts. Beer primarily uses a piece of charcoal and he cuts various designs in it. His cast designs can be seen on his earrings and page markers or adornments to his necklaces and bracelets.
Ten years ago his mother taught him how to emboss in paper, a process he uses in creating his greeting cards. The greeting cards have three parts: natural, Native American or Western images, a story and some pencil.
Beer said the stories are an important aspect of the card. Many of the stories are based on tales his ancestors told him or are his own personal thoughts and experiences.
"Stories are part of the Indian culture," he said. "It's how they related to each other and kept their history."
The first year he pursued his artistry Beer started winning prizes for his jewelry. He won a first and second place at an Indian ceremonial in Gallup. He received two third places at the Indian Market in Santa Fe two years ago. This year he won a first and a second place in jewelry at the New Mexico State Fair.
He made the first lifetime achievement award for the Sons of the Republic of Texas. He was the featured artist at the American Indian Art festival in Houston and his work has been featured in "Indian Silver Volume II."
Beer sell his wares at craft shows in New Mexico, Texas, Arizona and Oklahoma. His paper art is owned by people in Japan, Britain and Mexico.
He has also done some commision work, particularly a large geese glass structure for a checking company in San Antonio nine years ago. His latest endeavor is to apply to be a featured artist in the Prix de West exhibit at the national cowboy hall of fame in Oklahoma in 2008.
The challenge of trying to create beads no one else has made is what keeps him going in his craft, Beer said.
"It's interesting for me to see how many different kinds of beads I can make," he said. "It's a form of expression. Cars get better; I try to figure out how I can make a bead get better."