July 19, 2013

Artist Profile | Caroline Blechert

I am very excited to introduce an artist whose jewelry is unlike any I've seen before. Caroline Blechert uses porcupine quills in such modern and striking ways that her collections are both memorable and enchanting.

Recently, I had the wonderful opportunity to talk with her about her jewelry business, called Creations for Continuity. Caroline is Inuvialuit, and was born and raised in Yellowknife - a community located in the Northwest Territories of Canada, and this influence of the far north environment is evident in her work.

Caroline's work is represented on the Beyond Buckskin Boutique, and you can shop her collection at this link. You can also find her on her Facebook page, or at the lovely Tlicho Store. Click below to read our interview.

BB: Thank you Caroline for taking the time to talk with me about your business. I've noticed your work online, and I'm dying to learn more about it. It has a distinctive aesthetic to it that seems very refined. When and why did you start creating jewelry?
CB: I was a very observant and driven entrepreneurial child growing up. I used to watch in awe my Nanuk (grandma) sew mukluks and traditional parkas from seal fur and moose hide. Ever since I could remember I had wanted to be an artist. I was about nine years old when I started teaching myself how to make beaded jewelry, and sold my creations alongside my older cousin at a local festival for $2-$5 a bracelet. A few years later I had taught myself how to use my first loom to make my porcupine quill beaded bracelets, which by age 15 I had started selling at local Galleries.

My first major accomplishment was at age 17 as I was surprised and honored to accept the award for Best Emerging Artist at the largest festival here in the north, the Great Northern Arts Festival in Inuvik, NT. This festival was one of my most treasured moments as it gave me the opportunity to return to my mother’s native land where I could experience and explore more about my Inuvialuit culture and visit amongst other encouraging and inspiring aboriginal artists throughout the north.

BB: It is clear that the environment of the far north has influenced your work. Can you tell us the general process that you go through to create your work?
CB: Porcupine quills are one of my favorite materials to use. I’d say 80% of what I make uses porcupine quills, which can sometimes involve quite a challenging process. I begin with a bag of porcupine quills which are first sorted into two piles; one for dyeing and the other for using as they are (the dyeing piles are quills that don’t show much of the darker ends.) After washing the oil and dirt off the quills I cut each of the sharp ends off the quills and sort them again into different piles depending on their length and width.

BB: To create work that is so deeply rooted in tradition, while simultaneously bring forth a distinctive modern edge, is no easy task. What or who is your inspiration?
CB: There is a quote I heard a while ago that really stuck with me and found very inspiring. “Education is the new buffalo/caribou. It’s the sustainment into the new future.” As an artist I try to educate myself as much as possible and be open to new ideas and techniques but at the same time remembering the importance of tradition and our culture. It’s something that I hold very close to me and keep in mind as I come up with new ideas.

I am also very intrigued and inspired by the evolution of art within aboriginal communities when exposed to new materials and techniques. For example, the northern Athabascan exposure to European beads which resulted in a whole new form of art – beadwork. In a similar way I also aim to combine in my work ancestral practices, which have become my roots and my wings, my roots being my access to the part of my identity that is strongly connected to my family history and with my wings I depart with my traditional knowledge along with contemporary aesthetics and soar into uncharted territory truly my own. By using a variety of traditional materials, such as tanned caribou hide, antler bone, dentalium shells and porcupine quills combined with traditional processes such as embroidery and weaving I feel enlivens a sense of history in my work while carrying on the legacy of my ancestors.

BB: It's clear that your ancestors play a huge role in inspiring your work. Who are your favorite contemporary Native American or First Nations designers?
CB: Right now I’m really in love with the designer Jamie Okuma’s work after seeing her stunning revamped Christian Louboutins shoes. I also really like her jewelry which has a unique bold quality to it.

BB: What else should we know about you that has helped influence your work?
CB: Environmental knowledge I think is also one of my greatest passions. Respect for the land is such an important element as well as something so common in our culture. The land and our Culture are very intertwined with each other; the water, air, soil, animals, tress etc all form part of our culture because we rely so much on it. It would be hard to understand and respect our own culture when the land we live on is no longer able to sustain us. Growing up I didn’t know a whole lot about my culture which is something I’ve since grown very passionate about. My Great grandmother was Inuvialuit originally from Alaska and gave birth to my Nanuk (grandmother) on route of the Mackenzie Delta where my mother was also born. I think being aware of my background and learning the traditional ways has over the years given me a sense of unity with the land and with my family.

Click here to see more of her work.