Over 25 years ago, Eric Bonecutter created Bonecutter Trading Co to carry on the work his family had dedicated their lives to for over four generations.
Working with a handful of skilled Navajo silversmiths, Bonecutter Trading Co creates jewelry inspired by the classic styles of the 1930’s and 40’s, known for deep stamp work in sterling silver with turquoise stones. Today, Bonecutter’s silversmiths continue to be masters of innovation and artistry.
Bonecutter Trading Co is made up of many different Navajo designers. To give you a more personal look at the jewelry-makers, we have compiled a list of miniature biographies of a few of the artists, including some interviews from Bonecutters.
Sunshine Reeves has worked with Bonecutters since 1989. He has won many awards, including “Best of Show” at the Santa Fe Indian Market in 1997 for an eight piece silver coffee set. He has a wife and grown son, who serves in the United States Marines.
Aaron Toadlena’s favorite pieces of jewelry to create are old-style bracelets and Squash Blossoms. He has place first and second in multiple silversmith competitions, as well as entered pieces in the Gallup Ceremonial. He and his wife, Eve, have four children.
Albert Jake grew up in a large family of eight siblings. He always had a natural passion for art, especially drawing. His sister, Louise, taught him to silversmith and he joined Bonecutters in 1989. Now Jake creates both old-style and contemporary pieces. He enjoys time outdoors with his two daughters. He recalls getting his first job in jewelry:
“I remember driving through Gallup and seeing a “Help Wanted” sign in Ortega’s. I stopped in and was interviewed. They asked me if I knew how to make jewelry and I told them yes, although I really didn’t know much at all . . . The guy said to be there Monday morning to work. I was excited to have a job and remember going to my sister’s house and borrowing (though she didn’t know) three of her tools. I borrowed a hammer, a pair of pliers, and insulated tweezers. I showed up for work Monday making sure that I was the first one there. The guy looked at me and said,”Where are your tools?!?” I said,”Right here in my pocket!” and showed him what I had. He couldn’t stop laughing but I said, “Give me some work and I’ll show you what I can do!’” After making friends with a few of of the workers there I was on my way. The owner was very pleased with what I had done and even asked me who who had done the work for me! I remained there for about three years, and yes, I did take those tools back to my sister that I had borrowed.”
Darryl Becenti grew up in Arizaona as one of ten. He worked in several different industries before finding his love of jewelry-making, particularly stamping. After working for over thirty years with Bonecutters, he has taken numerous ribbons at the Santa Fe Indian Market. He notes the changes he has seen in his work since the beginning:
“The biggest change I have seen is the type of jewelry I make. I can do almost anything , and it sells as before. When I first started all I did was earrings and small items. Now I like to make concho belts, bracelets and rings. I like trying to come up with new stamp out designs.”
Guy Hoskie grew up the middle child of eight in Arizona and Utah. After high school he joined the Army and one year later he met his wife. They now have two sons. Hoskie learned to silversmith in the early 1990’s from his relatives. Now, his favorite pieces to create are bracelets and squash blossoms. While entering his pieces in competitions doesn’t particularly thrill him, he loves the people wearing and enjoying his jewelry.
“Jewelry is rewarding,” he says, “To see something that you have created being worn by someone is quite satisfying to me.”
Happy Piasso and Rudy Willie
Happy Piasso was born in Socorro, New Mexico and raised in Alamo. She and her husband, Rudy Willie, have created jewelry together since 1994. Willie learned silversmithing from his brother, while Piasso learned from her husband. Willie occasionally signs his own name to their pieces, but more often they are known to stamp them “H. Piasso.”
According to Bonecutters, “Harry Begay is one of the few Navajo silversmiths that creates pieces in the true old style using ingot silver. Ingot silver pieces are created by melting sterling silver in a crucible and pouring it out for repeated hammering and annealing of the metal. This process results in more tightly grained and heavier sterling silver pieces than using machined sterling silver products. Harry Begay has been silversmithing in this fashion for over 35 years.”
La Rose Ganadonegro
La Rose Ganadonegro, who grew up in Crown Point, New Mexico, has been doing silver work since 1984. She works alongside her husband, Archie.
Ronnie Willie is a renaissance man. He is an excellent silver smith, making his own tools and focusing on antique bracelets, inlaid crosses, and concho belts. In addition to silver work, he makes Kachinas, rock sculptures, wood carvings, and sandpaintings. He lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
See our Native American jewelry collection on our website.