Jennifer Younger

bear tracks pattern with spruce roots

Bear Tracks Patterned Cuff – copper with patina & spruce root

“Growing up we didn’t have electricity. That meant no TV. There was a lot of time to draw, color and paint as a kid. Mom always had us making party signage and cards for different occasions.”  Metalsmith and artist Jennifer Younger was raised in Yakutat, Alaska.  Just five and half years ago, she began studying the Tlingit art of formline metalwork and is now a full-time jewelry designer.  Younger, whose ethnic makeup is Tlingit, Polish, and Slovak, uses design work to honor the Native American part of her heritage and the Tlingit community in which she has always lived.

In the far south-eastern territory of Yakutat, Younger’s family lived off of the land.   “We were near the beach. We didn’t have electricity or plumbing.  So you can only imagine: showers made from five gallon buckets, midnight runs to the outhouse…after looking for bears! We had a garden, with mostly things like potatoes carrots and turnips.  As children, we’d be sent out during blueberry or salmon berry season.  ‘Don’t come back until your bucket is full!’ Mom would jar them and it would be a staple for School morning breakfast.”

bearclaw pendant

Bear Claw/Eagle Pendant – custom order

Younger learned the crafts of beadwork, making moccasins, and weaving spruce roots from her mother.  Younger’s grandmother, a full-blooded Tlingit, passed on the art of moccasin making to her children.  Like many natives, she suffered the trauma of displacement and forced schooling in the Wrangell Institute in Alaska.  There she was forced to suppress her culture’s language and practices, losing her hearing from physical abuse.  Growing up, Younger always enjoyed the arts and painting in particular. Yet, she didn’t imagine that she would become an artisan and express what her grandmother could not.  “Since then, my mom expanded her skin and fur sewing. We both learned how to gather, process and weave spruce roots.  But after High School I jumped right into the 9-5 work force. For years I never knew what I wanted to be…where my passion was…what kind of work would be fulfilling for me. I always knew I needed to work to pay bills, but I was always in search of something.”  It was her sister, Mary, who suggested that they try metalwork and make jewelry in 2012.  She knew Nicolas Galanin, a Tlingit metal artist, and assumed correctly that he would apprentice them.  “I pondered it…it sounded interesting,” she says.  “I went all in: bought the equipment and thought I had to create all these pretty shiny, silver things with ‘traditional’ formline designs.”

copper mussel shell

Mussel Shell Pendants – copper with patina

After a short apprenticeship with Nicolas Galanin, Younger and her sister later found a mentor in his father, fellow artist Dave Galanin.  “Dave had a shop at his residence.  He welcomed my sister, Mary, and I to come work with him to learn Tlingit formline design. We spent several years going to his shop several times a week.   Nick and Dave are still always very helpful whenever I need help or have questions. I’m always grateful for their continued support.”  As a single mother, working with the Galanin artists gave Younger an opportunity to study around the needs of her family.  She also found support for her unconventional design ideas.  Formline artwork is characterized by clean and curvy lines and shapes, often representations of animals and symbols.  While Younger’s design work certainly has elements of traditional formline, she branched into her own style using abstract shapes.  Into her metalwork she includes a more specific piece of her family history: “I like to incorporate spruce roots into my copper and silver jewelry. For one, I have a lot of roots that I do not want to waste! And I like how it adds an organic feel to a piece of jewelry. Thirdly, I like the analogy that I’m getting back to my Tlingit roots.”

killer whale bracelet

Killer Whale Bracelet – patinated copper

Younger makes custom work, sells to museum shops, and is one of the newer artists stocked on  The online shop, created by Native American designer Bethany Yellowtail, sells clothing and accessories made by Native American artists.  Younger feels incredibly fortunate to be an artisan and to be included in the B.Yellowtail family.  “All I can say is that if you are searching for your purpose, don’t ever give up! Everything I’ve done in my life has led up to this and this didn’t happen until after I turned 40!”

As evidenced by Younger’s experience with being an apprentice, community is valued in south-east Alaska.  The artists attested to this when asked what someone like me (an outside-of-Philadelphia native) won’t learn from watching the Discovery Channel.  Community support in the town of Sitka, and the natural surroundings, keep Younger inspired.  “Dave always told me to work on something every day. It can be a rainy day and I’m at a loss of what to make,” she says.  “I’ll make “rain drop” earrings. I’ll do patterns of indigenous plants. I’ll engrave spruce root basket patterns and incorporate spruce roots.”