The Gallup Independent ran a two-part series, January 7 and January 9, 2017 on the proliferation of fake Native American jewelry. Last year, Federal Agents seized jewelry that sellers claimed was Native American, but was being made in the Philippines. Some of that jewelry was being sold as made by Calvin Begay. It was not authentic Calvin Begay jewelry.
Lantern Dancer works directly with Calvin Begay and we have visited his studio and aetelier watching him and other Native American artisans work to create authentic Calvin Begay designs. Many of our pieces are made exclusively by Calvin Begay without the help of other stone setters, polishers, and finishers.
Calvin Begay is indeed a very good man and we are proud of our association with him and the work he does for Lantern Dancer. We guarantee the work you purchase from us is authentic Calvin Begay and it comes with a certificate of authenticity signed by Calvin Begay and our store owner Doris Green.
If you want authentic Calvin Begay jewelry, Lantern Dancer is the place to get it.
Feds: Fake jewelry has big names attached Fake jewelry
First in a two-part series
By Sherry Robinson
GALLUP — When federal agents seized purported Native American jewelry last year from two local outlets and said the jewelry was made in the Philippines, they also revealed that sellers had claimed some of it was made by Calvin Begay, a well-known local artisan. Begay subsequently said the jewelry wasn’t his.
It wasn’t the first time. In 2008, the state attorney general sued two stores for selling jewelry they fraudulently claimed was made by Begay.
“Actually, we are not too surprised,” Florida art dealer William Waites wrote. “Whenever an artist reaches the renown that Calvin has, he or she becomes a target for counterfeiters.”
The tide of counterfeit Native American jewelry affects artists such as Begay, as well as his distribution network, and he’s taken steps to protect his name and his work. His rise in the jewelry world illustrates some of the issues artisans face in marketing their work.
Begay said he couldn’t be interviewed for this story because the federal cases are still pending.
Begay’s official biography, handed out with the purchase of his jewelry, says he was born in Gallup in 1965 and raised in Tohatchi, where he still lives. Learning from his mother and uncle, he designed his first piece of jewelry at age 10. In 1989 his work won best of show at the Inter-Tribal Indian Ceremonial, and he’s been featured in Arizona Highways and other magazines.
“Calvin is one of our favorite jewelry artists. We have been offering his work for years,” William Waites wrote on the website ZuniLink.com. William and Susanne Waites have sold Native arts since 1979 in Florida and carried Begay’s jewelry since about 1990.
“We just saw his work in another venue and went out of our way to find him,” Waites said in an interview. “He was then living in Gallup and working out of the studio of a Touch of Santa Fe. We visited him there and got some work. We were just very impressed with the design quality and craftsmanship.”
Waites said that when Begay moved from working independently, he became an “atelier artist,” meaning that he designed and supervised the production of jewelry at A Touch of Santa Fe, which allowed him to increase production of his jewelry using their studio and staff of silversmiths and lapidary artists. Almost all the work carried both Begay’s signature and a TSF stamp, Waites wrote.
“That’s where Calvin got his name,” John Peasley, of Thunder Eagle Native Arts in Williams, Arizona, said. “They started promoting him.”
Around the end of 2006, Begay and A Touch of Santa Fe separated.
“The break could have been for many reasons,” Waites said. “An artist grows in a different direction from the sponsor. I’ve seen it many, many times. Calvin is a really decent guy.”
Someone familiar with the situation who asked to be unnamed said Begay makes promises to traders, and after they invest in a studio, he moves on.
“It’s not fair to the people he deals with,” the person said.
An individual answering the phone at A Touch of Santa Fe said he didn’t want to comment on the situation but added, “He’s not a good man.”
Touch of Santa Fe continued using Begay’s designs and some of his silversmiths and lapidary artists and identified the pieces as Begay’s work, Waites wrote in his blog. Begay insisted that they stop. In a blog posted Aug. 31, 2009, Waites asked, “Is your Calvin Begay really Calvin Begay?”
Touch of Santa Fe went on to produce its own line of Native American jewelry and enjoys a good reputation, according to two other traders.
Begay then began working with Sunrise Indian Jewelry. On Feb. 28, 2010, he granted Sunrise the right to use his design stamp, name, photo and bibliographic information in production and reproduction of jewelry. On June 12, 2015, Begay revoked his consent, but Sunrise continued using his design stamp and identifying information to produce jewelry.
In March, Begay sued Suleiman Hawash, doing business as Sunrise Indian Jewelry, in McKinley County District Court for misrepresentation and fraud. Begay asked the court to enter a judgment that the revocation is binding and his consent is null and void. He said he was being damaged by Sunrise’s use of his design stamp and related information because Sunrise was making jewelry it claimed was Begay’s, even though the silversmithing, construction and assembly were inferior, they were using plastic and glass instead of gemstones, and the jewelry was made in China.
“Calvin Begay’s ability to make a living by producing and marketing his own work is severely and irreparably damaged by Sunrise’s production and marketing of inferior products under his name,” the lawsuit states. “The public has an interest in the authenticity of Indian arts and crafts.”
On May 25, the court granted a preliminary injunction. “It would not be suitable to talk about this now because we have a lawyer working on it,” Hawash said. “It’s a lawsuit for nothing, really.”
Meet artist to ensure art is real
Meet the artist
Skillful fakes make authentication difficult Second in a two-part series
By Sherry Robinson
GALLUP — Google “Calvin Begay” and you’ll find an impressive number of stores carrying his distinctive inlay jewelry. And they’re not just any stores. Most have been in business for many years, and the owners pride themselves on their knowledge of Native American arts. They maintain long relationships with both artists and customers.
As fakes flood the market, these relationships have become more important than ever. Retail outlets trust artisans to make the jewelry and also trust that the materials are genuine; the artisans trust the retailers to represent their goods accurately.
“We frequently travel to the Southwest to visit with artists who have become friends,” William Waites, of Zunilink.com, said. He and his wife closed their longtime Florida gallery in 2006 after two hurricanes and now sell online.
“We love Navajo artists,” Waites said. “They’re very dedicated to their craft. Their concept of quality is second to none. That’s the reason it’s so disappointing to see jewelry come in from other countries. It’s created for a song and undercuts the artist. Inferior work tends to drive out the good artists.”
Calvin Begay often visits his customers’ stores.
“He meets one-on-one with customers,” Leanne Goebel, a staff member at Lantern Dance[r] in Pagosa Springs, Colorado, said. “It’s so clear Calvin loves what he does.”
Lantern Dancer, in business since 1992, buys directly from Native American artisans, “who are part of our store family and work closely with our knowledgeable staff,” its website states. The store guarantees each piece. Goebel said she’s been in Begay’s studio and watched him make jewelry.
John Peasley, of Thunder Eagle Native Art in Williams, Arizona, said he’s been selling Calvin Begay jewelry for 14 years.
“His quality is a step above most Native American artists,” Peasley said. “He uses heavier silver and better- quality materials.”
Peasley also visited Begay’s studio and saw that the artist created a piece but didn’t do the buffing.
“I photographed the unbuffed piece to show customers the before and after and to show the difference between handmade and manufactured,” Peasley said. “The quality is there because Calvin takes the time and makes sure.”
He said many other artisans work the same way and that many artists get their start working in the atelier system. Peasley said many shops mix real Native American jewelry with imported jewelry.
“The mass-produced machine jobs are cheaper, but the profit margins are much higher,” he said. “It’s been a big problem.”
Store owners can protect themselves through membership in the Council for Indigenous Art and Culture, which will come out, inspect the store and provide a seal of approval.
Carrying imported jewelry isn’t forbidden, Peasley said, but it must be properly labeled.
Retailers said demand for Native American jewelry is strong, but it’s more important than ever to buy from someone you trust.