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Arland Ben
Navajo Artist

Upon graduation from high school, Arland traveled to Brigham Young University to embark on the journey of pre-med. Excelling in physics and chemistry, he was on the path to achieving academic success. How is it, then, that Arland is now a world-renowned gold and silversmith?

Part of the answer lies in his family history.

Arland grew up in Aneth, Utah. This northernmost reach of the Navajo reservation was Indian country never invaded or conquered by Kit Carson. Historically known as the Long Hairs, these Navajo have lived continuously on the same land created and bestowed to them by the Navajo Gods. His grandfather, Kaayella (meaning “Many Arrows”) is written about in Utah history and there is a canyon in Bear’s Ears (near Blanding) named for him (though spelled Kigalla). Arland’s family—like the Navajo Nation—is rooted to this land.

The slickrock canyons and sandstone bluffs of Arland’s home are full of cliff dwellings, pictographs and petroglyphs from the ancient ones (the pre-Puebloans), and also from Arland’s tribe, the Navajo. In the canyons behind his home, Arland hiked to secret and favorite sites of ancient petroglyphs.

“I am inspired by these drawings of the ancients. Centuries ago, they carved art into rock. Rains have fallen. Winds blow. And still the art has lasted.”

Another part of the answer lies in the quintessential Navajo nature: independent, loyal and resourceful. As a child, Arland endured the isolated and notoriously harsh life of a boarding school, where strict discipline was the means toward the end of turning out homogenized adults. Brutal for an independent nature. “To this day, I cannot stand people standing over me and telling me what to do,” says Arland.

In pre-med, he saw friends, talented and skilled as doctors, but unhappy. “Any endeavor is hard, but if you love it, things come so much easier. Creating jewelry is hard, but I love my job. Life is so much better and easier when you love what you’re doing.”

As a child, Arland won awards in junior high for his portraits in chalk, pencil and mixed media. In the midst of pre-med, he answered the calling of his youth and transferred into art. He looked to his own past and that of his Navajo silversmith predecessors for inspiration.

“The first goldsmiths did it with so few tools. Files, a few stamps. I looked at the old bridles and conchos. The silversmiths didn’t have 45 degree or 50 degree stencils. They had to do the stamping free hand.”

Arland found a mentor in his brother-in-law, Vincent Platero, an accomplished silversmith known for his concho belts. After a short apprenticeship, Arland taught himself goldsmithing and overlay. He draws creative inspiration from a “higher source.”

“It takes time to come top me, the right vision for a piece,” he says. “I try to tap into a personality when creating a bracelet, for instance. When this bracelet finds its match with a person, this is an accomplishment for me. I pray for inspiration.”

Award-winning (including SWAIA Indian Market), Arland has been voted a top jeweler by Cambridge University. He has also managed to fit in a movie career, including a role in Geronimo and stunts in Last of the Mohicans.