Britta Lynn Kauppila
In 2013, The Arts, Culture, and Creative Economy Department at the City of Minneapolis commissioned a study to measure the impact of arts and culture on the region. The 2014 update found that the Twin Cities ranked as the fifth most “creatively vital” metropolitan area in the country, according to a metric which measures occupational employment and community participation in the arts. This put Minneapolis-St. Paul above other hotbeds of artistic energy like Denver, Austin, and San Francisco. The most recent findings from 2015 reported that the creative sector pumped over $4.5 billion into the local economy.
What drives this output is an undoubtedly complicated mix of the cumulative efforts of photographers, writers, public relation specialists, and sound engineering technicians. But there’s an underlying infrastructure that supports this economic powerhouse—the enthusiasm and support for local artists by the community. This is a notion perhaps best realized, strangely, by an artist based 150 miles away along the shores of Lake Superior in Duluth.
Britta Lynn Kauppila is a jeweler who draws inspiration from the beauty of the North Woods. She seeks to “encapsulate nature, and make you feel more powerful than yourself.” An art major in college, Britta went to an exhibit her freshman year that opened her eyes to jewelry as an art form. Throughout college and after graduating, she pursued opportunities to learn more about gemology before working at Studio Vincent, a boutique studio by Lake Calhoun.
There, Britta developed much of her technical experience. She became acquainted with the history of jewelry techniques, many of which are thousands of years old, and how to work with yellow gold—a favorite metal of hers because of how it moves and stretches. She also developed a sense of camaraderie with three other women who were working with her at the studio. The four of them eventually decided to get their own space in Seward.
They all had aspirations of working in Northeast Minneapolis though, and they were only in Seward for a year before moving into the Northrup-King Building in 2009. Each of them quickly grew out of sharing a space, but Britta quickly credited them for the artist she’s become: “I wouldn’t be where I am without those girls.”
Britta also credited the building for laying the foundation for her career. She said the Northrup-King Building staff works hard to publicize its tenants, and that the Twin Cities community has a thirst for supporting its local artists. She got work from simply being listed on the building’s website, from word of mouth, and from referrals. She tirelessly built her business and a dedicated clientele in Minneapolis over six months to the point where she felt like she could move back home to Duluth.
Britta crafts all her jewelry in her Duluth workshop, but has retained studio space in the Northrup-King Building. She makes the trek down I-35 for monthly events like First Thursdays and annual ones like Art-A-Whirl and Art Attack. Those serve as an opportunity for her to reconnect with her Minneapolis clients and build authentic relationships with new ones.
The transition north was difficult at first. But she’s been able to expand her base, and her clients from Minneapolis will routinely visit her in Duluth. The cornerstone of her work is custom wedding rings and engagement rings. She feels a certain sense of responsibility and honor creating an object people are going to have forever that expresses the most powerful emotions. “I make things within the context of my own work,” she said. “I’m not a chameleon. We have a conversation and I have them try things on. They start to like one thing more than another, and we piece these likes together.”
Her focus in 2017 is jewelry that empowers you. When you put on one of her necklaces, she hopes it will feel like armor. She’s seen her clients tear up when putting on her jewelry, and witnessing that emotional reaction, the moment in which they bring their own connections to a piece she created, validates her.
Britta struggles to meet other artists in Duluth, and admitted that she misses being in the Northrup-King building on a regularly basis. “It’s so special being around the other working artists; that creative energy.” She identified herself as extrovert, and said that the presence of the other artists in the building made her feel supported—she could bounce ideas around, share tools, cooperate—not compete—and help others.
It’s that unquestioning support which has served as the basis of her career, from the three girls at Studio Vincent to the other artists in the building. But also, most importantly, it’s the people of Minneapolis. “The existence of this arts scene is based on people in Minneapolis choosing to support their artists, to go local.”