Raised in New Mexico in the famous Navajo rug center of Two Gray Hills, Jesse learned early the perfection of the craft from watching the weavers and their pursuit of balance and technical perfection. The beautiful songs the women would sing as they wove and the soothing sound of the loom would stay with him as he began his work at the jeweler's bench years later. The stars the elders talked about looking up in that beautiful black sky of the Southwest would eventually be used in stunning array in the classic bracelets and pendants he is so well known for throughout the world.
Along with producing his own work, he has been actively involved in several facets of art. He assisted in the placing of historic and contemporary Native American jewelry in the permanent display at the Heard Museum. He also was the Artist in Residence at the Heard Museum during 1986-87, teaching and demonstrating the centuries old art of Navajo jewelry making.
Monongya's jewelry has been featured in a number of group and private exhibitions and is represented in both corporate and private collections, including collections of many other artists. He has won many awards at the major American Indian art shows throughout the Southwest.
Some of the major influences upon his work have been in varying degrees, Preston, his father, who he did not know until he was a grown man; his Hopi and Navajo background; (his grandfather being the much respected Hopi Elder David Monongya); his Navajo grandfather who taught him the respect of his environment and the old Navajo ways of discipline and the Beauty Way.
The Bear has been a symbol to Jesse as the Strength and Power of his "Dine" culture. The intricately inlaid bear takes so much concentration that he must take time in between to recover. He tells of the story when he was a very young boy with his grandfather and they came across a bear out in the mountains. His grandfather spoke to the bear in Navajo, acknowledging his strength and power, asking for blessing and to pass safely. The bear retreated from his standing position and walked away into the woods - it was a very strong experience for Jesse.
Through Jesse's skilled hands we can also share in these cultural and spiritual experiences.
Jesse's vision to help his people
Jessie's Vision is illustrated here by: Michael Guran from Lois Sherr Dubin book on Jesse Monongya "Opal Bears and Lapis skies".
His vision is an outreach program to bring the whole family back together within the community. Teaching children important lessons about their heritage, genealogy, and giving them a foundation to build a successful "new beginning". A civic center is at the heart of Shánídíín surrounded by corn fields, basketball courts and baseball fields.
From the book Michael is quoted:
"Shánídíín means "healing ray of light" in the Navajo language. Many of Jesse's pendants and bracelets have rays of light made of gold set into stone or made of light stone set into a dark sky of lapis lazuli with gold stars."...
"But Jesse recognized a deeper mark -a need for healing. The labor camp in Erfurt and, after the war, the refugee camp in Mainz were all I knew when I came here [from Germany] in 1947 at the age of seven. Like man camp survivors, it was not the experience itself that dogged me as much as the why of it. The why seems clearer every day: those who see themselves as victims, nations included, have license to commit these things. Others choose the path of healing. Jesse called me 'that German guy,' which made me laugh. I told him I was red, white, and blue stones." -Michael Guran