By Kara Larson
Britta Lynn Kauppila’s Duluth studio is lined entirely with big windows overlooking the perpetual vastness of Lake Superior. It’s so close that on hot summer days, Britta admits, she’s able to take a quick dip over her lunch hour. Like so many who live near this colossal body of water, Britta is under the spell of Superior’s undeniable magnetism. Wading in its waves, foraging the pebble beaches for agates, sea glass, and other textural treasures, Britta calls this lake her muse. She draws inspiration from its wondrous presence—and you can feel its influence in her art.
Britta discovered jewelry as an art form in her freshman year of college at Northern Michigan University. For the first time, she thought of jewelry as art, which felt exciting and even serendipitous. As a kid, she remembers being interested in geology and archaeology and history and art—all of which are connected through jewelry. After transferring to the University of Minnesota Duluth, Britta ended up an art major with a concentration in Jewelry and Metals and achieved her Gemology Certificate at Minneapolis Community and Technical College on the side.
All the while, she was working at a Minneapolis jewelry studio, Studio Vincent, through college, honing her skills with hand fabrication and stone setting and learning the ins and outs of the jewelry business. After graduation, she began working there fulltime as a Design Consultant, then Goldsmith, and then eventually, Studio Director. Her time working for Stephen Vincent and with many jewelry artisans at Studio Vincent would amount to an invaluable experience and a catalyst for her own future business.
Britta began her own jewelry business almost 7 years ago when she and her husband were living in the Twin Cities. Leading up to this decision, she worked tirelessly to build up her name and reputation and found beautiful community in her mentors, fellow jewelry artisans, other local artists, and in her clients. Britta quickly realized how many people were making a living as jewelry artisans in Minneapolis—and how unique a thing that was. She felt support and community and was growing a substantial root system for her budding business.
As Britta officially went fulltime with her own work, an opportunity to move back to Duluth came into the picture. Britta and her husband always knew they wanted to move back to Duluth, but they thought it was going to be very far down the line. Britta shares, “My husband is an engineer and there was a job that came available and kind of fell in his lap. It was a great opportunity and we had to take it, but since it was right when I went fulltime to my own work, I was really nervous.”
Britta had nothing to worry about. Her community followed her to Duluth and her work continues to be as thoughtful and respected as ever. In coming “home,” she tapped into a new set of inspirations that would inform her work in unexpected, beautiful ways.
“Moving up here, I felt all those romantic notions of going back to Duluth and the northwoods and living off the land,” Britta laughs. “A conjuring of home was really stirring inside of me. It set me on an objective to make what I was feeling. I’m not always the best with words, but I can communicate best visually.”
Having grown up in Duluth, Britta feels a connection to the lake and the earth around it—a place her family has called home for generations. Her dad still lives on the farm that was homesteaded by Britta’s great great grandparents, who came from Sweden. “That land,” Britta begins, “I’ve always felt a connection to. There’s just something special about it.”
She adds, “It’s hard for me to put into words—but it’s that feeling of being out there and thinking…this is where I come from. It’s such a calming and fulfilling feeling.”
Thematically, Britta’s work draws from two major influences, and both are deeply rooted in who she is. The first is the natural world that fuels her curiosity—Lake Superior and its shores. And the second is her heritage—the relatives that came before her and lived on the land she now calls home. One of these influential relatives is her great great grandma—a woman Britta never met. However, her diary has been passed down through generations and through the stories she tells within the timeworn pages, Britta feels a special connection to her life and her spirit.
“Beyond the natural world, what’s really inspiring to me are powerful women. And I think my great great grandma is a big part of that—someone whom I’ve never met before, but just reading about her life and the strength that she had—I like to try to translate that into jewelry. I think about how jewelry interacts with the body and how it makes the wearer feel. I always want it to be a bold, empowered feeling.”
Part of this empowerment can be traced back to Britta’s values as an artist. She hopes to embolden people through her jewelry. She is honored to create meaningful, one-of-a-kind treasures people are emotionally connected to and feel good about purchasing. And it begins with her materials. “Everything I’m working with comes from the Earth—so it’s very important to be respectful of those materials and sourcing in the most responsible way that I can. All my metal is recycled, my stones fair trade and conflict free, fair trade, and recycled when they can be.”
Britta is proud to offer an experience that begets a meaningful, sustainable purchase with jewelry. She thoughtfully obtains every material down to packaging and honors the story behind every commissioned piece of jewelry. “One good thing to come out of the recession is the fact that people are being much more mindful of where their money goes. People are spending more money on experiences, not just things. When you buy from an artist directly, you are getting that experience. If you were to just go to the store to get it, you wouldn’t be getting that same experience. Being an artist and local small business myself, that’s who I try to support along the way as well.”
In Britta’s mission to carefully and deliberately source every part of her business, she sees it as an opportunity to support other artists, utilizing their work in her packaging, displays, and beyond. “When people buy from me, they’re not just supporting me. They’re sustaining these other artists. It’s a way for me to have an impact, which I really enjoy.”
Every aspect of Britta’s intentional creative process is brought to life when her client and their story come into the picture. The magic of jewelry is bound to that spark of inspiration. The experience of an artist like Britta making a power ring, an engagement ring, jewelry for anniversaries, or for no reason at all is special—and it yields a unique token made by an artist who makes a living with her hands doing what she loves. “That’s the thing I love about jewelry—how thoughtful of an art form it is, how sentimental it is, how important it is to people. They’re big symbols in peoples’ lives that they remember and relate to and it’s pretty special to be able to be a part of that.”