There is an energy that radiates from Portland jewelry designer Caroline Blechert’s art. It’s an ancestral force rooted in the movements of nomadic people; the spirits of whales, porcupine and caribou; and the unyielding resilience of the Inuit people native to Canada’s arctic Northwest Territory. It’s also the tie that binds Blechert to the other artists she uplifts through Creations for Continuity, a home for her own designs and a collective featuring work and collaborations with other Indigenous makers.
Contemporary Inuit Jewelry
Blechert’s designs reflect both her Inuvialuit tribe’s heritage and her urban contemporary aesthetic. Her pieces range from colorful and intricate yet understated beaded earrings and rings, to ornate and arresting statement pieces like necklaces, headbands and cuffs,
She incorporates Inuit techniques (such as weaving and embroidery) and traditional materials in her crafting process. “Traditionally, the artists in the community showed their honor and respect to the animals hunted by using every piece of the animal so that nothing goes to waste — even the tiniest scraps,” she explains. As such, scraps of materials gifted to her by tribal elders are often integrated into new fashions, as are portions of a large tanned caribou hide she bought years ago. Hard-to-find-in-Portland textiles such as porcupine needles, dentalium shells, antler and baleen are sourced directly through connections back home in the North.
Creations for Continuity features accessories under different themes (beads being the bedrock of Blechert’s work). Her Copper series was inspired by knives traditionally forged from copper in her Canadian hometown of Yellowknife. The seasonal vibrancy of spring flowers informs and inspires the pastel-rich Bloom series. And the Sedna series, named after the legendary Inuit sea goddess, reflects the ocean with blue and turquoise hues.
“Storytelling is deeply rooted in our culture as a form of entertainment but also as a way of weaving ideas and thoughts,” said Blechert. “The story of Sedna has always resonated with me as a tale of resilience and compassion, which I aim to weave within my artwork as a daily reminder.”
The Origins of Creations for Continuity
As a child, Blechert’s Inuit mother was sent to a religious boarding school where Indigenous language and dress were forbidden, and assimilation into western culture and religion was enforced. That experience has had generational ripple effects.
Blechert recalls a period of feeling isolated and disconnected from her cultural identity while living in Vancouver, B.C. That, coupled with the ubiquity of Indigenous designs being culturally appropriated by big mainstream brands, left her feeling torn about how to embrace the fashion and design of her ancestors in a modern, authentic context. Eventually, she created her own solution: Creations for Continuity.
The collective became her outlet and a platform to support other Indigenous artists and makers that showcased the beauty and resiliency of a culture that was almost lost. “It’s important to carry on our legacy,” she says. “If we don’t have that identity… we’re just kind of floating around living this life represented by other people.”
An Indigenous Renaissance
Today, Blechert and her contemporaries are driving forward a renaissance while continuing to honor the past. They’re at the forefront of a cultural reawakening, a movement as empowering as it is long overdue. It’s enabling Indigenous people from the Northern Territories and across North America to once again see beauty and take pride in their Native culture.
It’s important “to give [Indigenous artists] a sense of voice and for them to be able to showcase their own work and identity,” Blechert says. “To feel proud of themselves and where they come from.”
Blechert’s body of work stands on its own, but recently she’s been pushing her stylistic boundaries by collaborating with other Indigenous artists, such as fellow Inuvialuit jewelry-maker Erica Joan Lugt.
Where to find Creations for Continuity
For Blechert, there literally aren’t enough hours in the day to create new pieces for both the web and gallery spaces (and she isn’t quite ready to open a storefront of her own — though it is a vision for the future). For now, products by Creations for Continuity can be purchased on the collective’s website, along with at Portland pop-up markets for creatives of color, such as My People’s Market.