You could say it’s in Leanne Helin’s blood to craft her radiant, intricately detailed, First Nations jewelry. Her brother Bill Helin is a world renowned native Tsimshian artist, her grandfather was a boat maker and woodworker, and her mother has been sewing since Leanne can remember.
Leanne started in the family business selling her brother’s jewelry, and eventually began finishing some of his pieces.
Bill recognized a talent in Leanne and encouraged her to begin making her own jewelry. In 1998 she apprenticed with Bill, learning engraving techniques in Tsimshian native designs. A year later she attended the Gemological Institute of America, studying jewelry repair, and in 1991 she began working on her own.
“It was in the blood and it started to grow,” she said, “fulfilling a void in my life that I didn’t know was there.”
Even though her brother inspired her, Leanne said initially she lacked the confidence to do her own work because of her older brother’s “overwhelming talent” in the arts.
Leanne has now created her own loyal and adoring customers around the world and is becoming more well known throughout B.C.
Leanne’s work depicts the legends, symbols and crest of her Tsimshian native heritage, and are hand carved in gold and sterling silver, sometimes incorporating copper and often brilliant, colorful stones. Leanne said before she creates a piece she will often meditate with an animal in mind and the ideas just begin to flow.
“I don’t know how it flows but it just takes its own direction and creativity,” she said.
All the First Nation animal symbols Leanne carves carry meaning. If a person needs empowerment for instance, she said, they may choose a wolf, if they need healing and joy in their life, a hummingbird.
Besides her earrings, pendants, bracelets, rings and watches, Leanne also crafts custom fitting gold and silver finger and toe nails. These stay on for three weeks and she sends her customers home with their own kits to continue wearing the glamorous pieces for years to come.
For Leanne, the work she does grounds her and makes her feel connected to something deeper than she can explain, she said. There is something special about creating modern jewelry rooted in ancient native culture, especially knowing the pieces will live on for generations. Her customers, she said, feel this profoundness the jewelry carries.
“Most of my customers are not Native people and they feel the magic and the completeness and the empowerment (of the jewelry). It’s something that has a strong heritage and doesn’t look like an antique,” she said.
Although it was her brother that inspired her to begin making jewelry, Leanne credits her mother with getting her where she is today, giving her constant positive support and encouragement, Leanne said, “no matter how bad it looked,” she laughed.
Leanne can be found selling her jewelry at local summer festivals and markets like the Craig Street Market and Nanoose Bay Art in the Garden. She sells her work from her home studio in Nanoose Bay by appointment and her work can also be viewed on her website. Visit www.leannehelin.com or call 250-468-9299 for more information.