Vanessa Ægirsdóttir poses for a photo in her shop, Wild Yukon Furs, in Horwoods Mall in Whitehorse on June 2. Ægirsdóttir was awarded the Craft Council of British Columbia design innovation award for her fur jewelry work in a juried selection that featured 200 designs by nearly 60 artists from across the country. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)

Yukoner receives design innovation award for jewelry

Vanessa Ægirsdóttir work featured in juried selection of BC Craft Council

Vanessa Ægirsdóttir is already well-known in the Yukon for her fur jewelry and textile artwork sold out of her Wild Yukon Furs shop in Horwoods Mall, but her work is also earning the acclaim of the Craft Council of British Columbia.

Ægirsdóttir was awarded the council’s design innovation award for her fur jewelry work in a juried selection that featured 200 designs by nearly 60 artists from across the country.

Like so many things, the ceremony for the awards, which would typically be handed out in-person, were moved to a virtual event this year in light of COVID-19.

Ægirsdóttir was pleased to learn of the honour for her work, the only work in the selection that featured fur.

“This was welcome news,” she said in a June 2 interview at her shop, highlighting the timing of the award during the global pandemic.

Within her shop are earrings featuring the winning designs: hoops lined with fur, dangling pieces featuring fur from Yukon wild animals (foxes, wolverines, lynx and more) and earrings that feature the fur with copper cones. Copper, she noted, is a material that has significance in the Tlingit culture as a symbol of wealth, honouring her husband’s culture.

The pieces are simply constructed and designed to showcase the fur.

Given the nature of fur, no two pieces are the same even when the fur for the two earrings is coming from the same animal.

While she was pleased to be recognized by the Craft Council of BC, other plans for her work have stalled.

Ægirsdóttir said she and her husband George Bahm, a Tlingit trapper who supplies much of the fur Ægirsdóttir uses in her jewelry, had plans to open another shop in Skagway, Alaska, this year but those plans are clearly on hold for now.

That said, she noted this gives them more time to make connections in Skagway and explore other initiatives for the business and jewelry line.

As for when she sees opening up in Skagway as a possibility, she couldn’t say, pointing out “there’s just too many unknowns right now.”

If it’s meant to be, she said, she’s learned from previous experience that rushing isn’t the way to go.

“I can’t get out of it,” she said of the current situation, adding she is open to what may come.

It was being open that led to the award and seeing the potential for a store in Skagway, not to mention the opening of the Wild Yukon Furs space in Horwoods.

“I never meant to have a store,” she said with a laugh.

In fact it was never her intention to do any trapping or processing work, but when she and Bahm were dating she soon realized she may not see him through the winter unless she was helping him with the work and began joining him to help process the furs.

After she began making fur jewelry, she soon found there were questions about trapping that she didn’t have answers to, so she joined him when he went out to his trap line. Thinking it would be a good chance to observe, she soon learned she would be helping and it wasn’t long before she was on her own sled joining Bahm in the work.

Throughout November to March — with the timing dependant on the animal they’re trapping — she and Bahm run 180 kilometres of trapline in the South Canol area, with the trapline having to be checked every week (or every five days for some animals). At the same time, Ægirsdóttir continues her artwork and jewelry work while also running the store, and Bahm works a full-time job.

“It’s like two full-time jobs (for each of us) all winter long,” she said, though she added it is on the trapline where she has learned more about herself than anywhere else.

“It is where we restore.”

For her husband, it is a place of connection with his Tlingit heritage in a place where his ancestors walked before him.

Through her jewelry design and production, Ægirsdóttir said she wants to honour First Nations cultures and raise awareness about the value of fur.

Signs in her shop feature the Tlingit language of her husband’s family as well as Southern Tutchone as the store is on the traditional territory of the Kwanlin Dün First Nation and Ta’an Kwäch’än Council.

Ægirsdóttir said she works hard to honour her husband’s culture.

Bahm is often called on to vet her pieces and she has also collaborated with First Nations artists on her pieces.

She also limits her fur purchases to those coming from Indigenous trappers, paying a premium for the fur in her effort to ensure trappers are fairly compensated for the product and that the value of the fur and animal is recognized.

While it may be some time before plans come together for Ægirsdóttir to move forward with a second shop in Skagway, she said she will continue working to showcase Yukon fur.

Contact Stephanie Waddell at stephanie.waddell@yukon-news.com

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The pieces of jewelry at Wild Yukon Furs in Whitehorse on June 2, that won Ægirsdóttir the Craft Council of BC design innovation award. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)

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