Monongya is a master inlay jeweler who has promoted and supported individual
Indian artists as well as expanded public awareness and opportunities to
appreciate Indian artwork.
Included among his many honors are Best of Show at the Annual Heard Museum Guild Indian Fair and Market in 1998; Inter-tribal Indian Ceremonial Indian Art Show, Gallup, New Mexico, in 1991 and 1978; and O'odham Tash, Casa Grande, Arizona, in 1986.
Jesse's support for young and
emerging artists not only focuses on the development of individual artists
but also on strengthening ties among Indian peoples.
The Board focuses on activities that directly benefit Native American artists and craftspeople, including the enforcement of the Indian Arts and Crafts Act, a truth in marketing and consumer protection law, co-authored by another Living Legacy honoree, Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell. The Board also publishes the Source Directory of Indian owned and operated arts and crafts businesses and showcases authentic Indian arts and crafts through its three Indian museums in the Plains regions.
In addition to his work as commissioner, Jesse has helped to place historic and contemporary American Indian jewelry in the permanent display at the Heard Museum. He also was the artist in residence at the Heard Museum in 1986-87, teaching and demonstrating the centuries-old art of Navajo jewelry making. Since 2000, Jesse has served as a mentor and participant in Southwest Meets Northwest, a cultural exchange program between Navajo, Hopi, and Zuni artists and Pacific Northwest Haida artists.
Jesse lives in Scottsdale, Arizona, a center for American Indian art that is close to the Hopi and Navajo reservations, which provided the major cultural and artistic influence on his work. Among those influences, Jesse sites his father, Preston; his grandfather, the respected Hopi Elder David Monongya; and his Navajo grandfather, who taught him to respect his environment, the old Navajo ways of discipline and the Beauty Way.
Raised in New Mexico - in the famous Navajo rug center of Two Gray Hills -- Jesse early learned the ethic of craftsmanship by watching the weavers and their pursuit of balance and technical perfection. The songs the women sang as they wove and the soothing sound of the loom would stay with Jesse, as he began his work at the jeweler's bench. Jesse also listened as the elders talked about the stars in the beautiful Southwest sky.
That heritage is reflected in Jesse's work, which has ranged from the use of silver and simply cut turquoise and coral to highly technical designs of the galaxies and heavens in lapis, jade, malachite, and diamonds set in gold. While his work has evolved over the years, his color combinations and balance of design have remained constants.
The bear has been a symbol to Jesse of the strength and power of his Dine culture and a frequent motif in his work. An intricately inlaid bear takes a great deal of concentration. He tells the story of when he was a young boy with his grandfather and how they came across a bear in the mountains. His grandfather spoke to the bear in Navajo, acknowledging his strength and power, asking for the bear's 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.
Jesse's jewelry has been featured in a number of group and private exhibitions and is represented in both corporate and private collections, including those of other artists. He has won many awards at the major American Indian art shows throughout the Southwest.