Published on January 22nd, 2014 | by Jeff Slim0
Creative Hustle // Nanibaa Beck
Positioned on the edge of Phoenix, AZ, rests the Beck studio. The studio is home to a family of dedicated jewelers who work daily and mean business. Amongst the ensemble of innovative beings is, Nanibaa Beck. Until recently, for years Nanibaa has helped her father, Victor Beck, in the studio. It’s within the past few months that Nanibaa has constructed a platform for her own work. Utilizing her acquired skills in the shop as well as her school studies and personal experiences, Nanibaa was able to compose Notabove Jewelry.
During a coffee date, Nanibaa and I were able to casually converse about her current journey as a “creative hustler” as well as the direction of her exploration.
Jeff Slim: Describe yourself in two adjectives or less.
Nanibaa Beck: One adjective I tend to use is “Optimistic”. I think that definitely serves as a word that a lot people must have in their lives. Since I’ve been calling myself a “creative hustler”. “Creative” would be my second adjective. I feel like everyone is creative in his or her own way. It‘s just a matter of how much they want to utilize that for something more or something that allows them to reach out to different communities.
JS: What is your background in jewelry making?
NB: My father is a jeweler. He has been “hustling”/selling his jewelry since the mid-70’s. Growing up, I was able to witness a lot of the ways my father brought together his own style and his own creativity when making jewelry. He was always working in his studio for as long as I could remember.
It was in sixth grade when I became curious to help out in the shop. I also wanted to make something for a friend. I made small pink shell earrings and those were the first piece of jewelry I made. This is when my father realized that I had an interest to work in the shop.
I’ve been helping him out with a lot of things such as the “monotonous” work since the sixth grade. This has surrounded me for such a long period of time I was able to inherit the skill that would eventually allow me to create a large base of jewelry types.
My background comes from the way my father learned how to make jewelry. I’m a second generation of family jewelers.
JS: How does it feel to be working on your own jewelry?
NB: It’s been an interesting turn around because I want so badly to make sure things are done properly. I entered into this with the knowledge of working in galleries, museums, and non-profit organizations that work with artists. So I have a really good sense of how things need to be organized. I want everything to be prepared and this was so not prepared. I posted a picture of my work on Facebook and immediately I began to get orders. So I had to scramble to get everything taken care of like invoices, etc. I still don’t have business cards. But I’m happy that there has been a quick turn around from something that was just mine, a small hobby or just something I was doodling with. It has become something more than that.
JS: How have you been handling the recent amount of commissions?
NB: It’s exciting and it’s different. I think it’s better to be busy than to not be busy. It’s been really great to see the reactions of people’s faces when they receive necklaces. Right now, I’m thinking very long term. As much as I want to face and look at what’s happening right now in the present, I have to be well aware of how I want to progress. I’m constantly thinking of what materials I can use and what’s missing right now that can make it better in the end. It’s been a nice progression. I feel like I’ve been growing but I’ve only been doing this for a few weeks.
JS: How Does your graduate studies tie into your work? I know you’re working on a thesis right now. Does that also tie into your work?
NB: The great thing about what I’m doing applies perfectly to my thesis. I have a hashtag that is called Navajos Marketing Navajo Jewelry. My thesis is looking at how the marketing of Navajo jewelry has changed throughout the years. A lot of it is looking at the fact that non-Natives were studying Navajos. There are well written books out there. But it is different when someone is writing about a tribe but have not witnessed the personal elements that take place within the family when preparing for shows. It’s something that I’ve gotten to experience because I know about my father’s experiences, and I’ve been writing that down. I’m also writing down my own experiences and how I’ve been marketing my own work. I’ve been approaching it in a very “nerd like” way because I feel like there is a lot to be said about how I can apply anthropological theories and anthropological skills that I have learned. But more so applying it in a way that creates a sense of presence of what Native Americans are doing today. So that there isn’t a static position of how we view ourselves and how others view us, especially when looking at Native American jewelry.
JS: What sparked the Diné Bizaad pendants?
NB: I had exacto blades and I wanted to create. I was in Albuquerque at the time; I think it was the day after my birthday in October. I wanted to make cards, so I just got blank cards. I thought I could just stencil a word inside the card. So I stenciled the word “Ahéhee’” in them. I still have them. I saw them recently and that’s what sparked the idea. I haven’t seen anything like this. It seemed simple enough to create what I did with an exacto blade on paper, so I wanted to apply this technique onto metal. I knew I had the supplies, the resources, and I definitely have the knowledge to go about it. I just needed to do it. I always wanted to do something with Diné Bizaad.
JS: What would you like to achieve with your current work?
NB: I want to achieve a balance where I can work on jewelry, write my thesis, and continue my academic studies. I want to also nurture this experience of what I call a “creative hustle” to prove to myself that I can do this and make it work.
JS: The brand name, Notabove, how did that come about?
NB: I was walking around Roosevelt during First Friday with my interviewer, Jeff. He introduced me to a few acquaintances. One of the acquaintances was a guy named Nubo who thought my name was “Notabove”. I told him my name was Nanibaa and not Notabove, he thought it would’ve been cooler if it were. It’s such a funny recollection and I just enjoyed it. I’m definitely all about balance, I’m pretty humble, and I don’t think I’m higher than anybody else. It’s the best name anyone has ever given me upon first introductions. So I started to use that name for whatever I was doing.
JS: Beyond the studio and thesis writing, what else are you doing?
NB: I have Presence 4.0. Which is a style blog that I’ve co-founded with friends, Chelsea Chee and Jaclyn Roessel. We’ve known each other for quite sometime now. In 2012, our paths crossed and we had a conversation that lead to the birth of Presence 4.0. Our tagline is “Creativity & Ingenuity Of Native Style”. What we do is highlight the way people are dressing/styling/representing themselves, noting the cultural or non-culture elements they may incorporate into their daily wardrobe. We’ve had many discussions about how Native Americans have been stereotyped in the fashion world. A lot of the information and websites on the Internet didn’t have many places to show how that style really is today. So we thought that Presence 4.0 could be an outlet to show the styles of Native people now. Presence 4.0 has been able to collaborate with Jessica Metcalfe of Beyond Buckskin Boutique, which is taking us to a new level we weren’t anticipating last year when we started the blog. It’s been refreshing and exhilarating to be working with groups of creative people.
JS: One more question, when working in the shop, do you listen to music? If so, what are you listening to, to keep you moving?
NB: I just finished an audio book, 1Q84 by Huraki Murkami. I mostly listen to various podcasts on my headphones. I don’t really listen to much music these days, but when I do I like to listen to Radiohead and XX.
“I move, therefore I am.” is a Murkami quote that sums up this progressive moment in Nanibaa’s life. With the urgency and desire to hone and own a personal creative style, Nanibaa defiantly doesn’t lack the strength of purpose. “I digress.”
To see more images of Nanibaa’s jewelry designs, check out her blog and store at www.notabove.wordpress.com or follow her Instagram @nanibaa
Presence 4.0 can be found here: http://presencefour.com
* On Feburary 8th, Nanibaa and I will be sharing a booth at the Native Now event held at the Deer Valley Rock Art Center in Phoenix, AZ.
Studio photos by Jeff Slim.
Jewelry photos by Nanibaa Beck.