ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – Navajo jeweler Jimmie Harrison trod through transformational introspection to his true passion and career path early in life.
He is a living example of what can happen when people follow a dream and pursue a passion.
After more than 30 years of creativity, Harrison is no stranger to success. He has breathed life into world-class, award-winning jewelry.
“Make the commitment,” Harrison exalted. “I never gave up. I worked at it and worked at it. I made a good name for myself and kept it going through all these years.”
The jeweler has made a name for himself by creating stunning jewelry that captures the viewer’s eye as well as honors his Native American roots.
Harrison will showcase his detailed inlaid jewelry when he makes the trek to the upcoming Artesian Arts Festival, set for May 26 in Sulphur.
Marking his third festival appearance, he hopes patrons will become well-informed and educated about what his work represents.
Looking back on 37 years of crafting jewelry, Harrison can pinpoint where his journey began and two people who helped get his feet wet – Preston and Jesse Monongye, father-and-son.
Growing up in the Four Corners area between Arizona and New Mexico, Harrison attended school with Jesse, forming a bond as close as brothers.
“Before my dad passed on, he told Jesse to take care of his ‘brother,’ which was me,” Harrison said, reflecting on his early days. “He told Jesse to ‘keep him on the right road, keep him going the traditional way.’ In that way, my family took in Jesse. They treated him like he was their son.”
Through his connection with Jesse, Harrison was able to build a close relationship with Preston, who “adopted” him into the family.
The father-son duo, both critically acclaimed jewelers, shared their techniques and designs about crafting jewelry. By apprenticing under Preston, Harrison developed his own irrepressible style.
Harrison knows he was in the right place at the right time and credits Preston and Jesse for his success. His biggest inspiration remains Jesse.
Without the relationship he had established with Jesse, Harrison might never have met Preston and started the beginnings of a lifelong career of crafting innovative, exquisite jewelry.
“Doing work for Preston is what really got me going,” Harrison commented. “I’ll always be thankful for Jesse and Preston.”
Harrison draws inspiration from “Mother Earth, Father Sky” in addition to other spiritual elements and animals. He incorporates his inspiration into stunning pieces of jewelry.
“With my type of inlay, the most difficult thing is precision,” Harrison said. “The lines have to be all even; the images have to be centered and squared off exactly.”
Using stones and shells from South America, Mexico, Australia, Russia and other exotic places, Harrison intertwines a multitude of colors in his rings, necklaces, bolos, bracelets and earrings.
“When you cut and inlay stones and shells from all over the world, there is nothing more exciting than bringing the true colors of the stones to life,” Harrison observed.
Lifeline patterns are illustrated in Harrison’s inlay, with animal figures representing strength and wisdom. Colors evoke “Mother Earth, Father Sky and Mother Nature.”
Symbolism plays a vital aspect in his jewelry; he utilizes symbols like the Hopi “kachina,” portraying the giver of life – taught to him by Preston – and Navajo “yei-bi-cheis,” depicting a wealth of wisdom.
“In a way, I am creating images in two cultures,” Harrison said. “I put them together as a way to say ‘thank you.’ I do it in respect for Preston. I do my own ‘yei-bi-cheis’ in honor of my elders.”
Chasing a passion, no matter how difficult, and sharing knowledge with others is incredibly important to Harrison. He yearns to give back what was given to him as a gift. Because of this, he teaches others who are truly dedicated to learning the art form.
“In order to be recognized and be different, you need to do your own thing,” Harrison steadfastly argues. “I live a very humble life and keep a low profile. I let my work do the talking.”
Referred to as the “Godfather of Inlay,” “Master of Inlay” and “King of the Night,” Harrison has left his mark on the jewelry world, shaping his legacy to this day through each show and festival he attends.
He gets his notable name “King of the Night” from the many constellations he includes in his pieces.
“You are keeping the tradition alive by creating new images, being true to your culture, being true to yourself and by respecting those who inspired you and believed in you,” Harrison said adamantly.
The Artesian Arts Festival will be at the Artesian Plaza, located adjacent to the Artesian Hotel and Spa, 1001 W. First St., Sulphur.
The Artesian Arts Festival is the fastest-growing Native-themed art show in the nation. More than 100 Native American artists, many nationally and internationally acclaimed, will be highlighted at the festival.