Nannette Foster began designing jewelry to reconnect to the creativity that she’d left behind in her childhood. Whisking herself away from corporate America to Kodiak, Alaska became an unexpected transformational process. It inspired the long-lasting theme of Wild Island Studio. Collecting found materials that wash up on the shore, seeing the value and beauty in what has been cast aside, is symbolic of her creative and spiritual rebirth.
Foster’s creative process also speaks to her compassion for victims of human trafficking. The artist was kind enough to tell me more about her creative journey and how her sales help support Priceless Alaska in the fight against human trafficking.
For starters, where are you from and where do you live now?
Originally a Midwestern girl from the Kansas City, Missouri area, I moved to Kentucky and Tennessee. I moved from Nashville to Kodiak Island, Alaska in 2012 after what was supposed to be a summer adventure only. That’s how Alaska gets you.
Why is metalsmithing your art form of choice?
I’ve always loved both art and working with my hands, but never landed on a medium. Discovering of decades old brass and copper washed up on Kodiak beaches was the catalyst. I was so excited and kept thinking, “I can’t believe someone threw this out. There is value here!”
I started out with cold connections while I lived in a tiny cabin, then worked out of a suitcase the year our family lived in a camper. As soon as we got our current home, I took over a room to use as my studio and got addicted to using a torch. There’s something empowering about controlling a flame.
I was reading about how you began designing jewelry. You were a creative child but left your creative pursuits to make a career in corporate America. Then, you felt the need to create again, and you started with feather earrings. Why feathers?
Feathers strike a chord in my spirit. They represent freedom, which is super important to me. I have a small “free” tattooed on my left wrist. My next tattoo will probably be a Feather right above that. Being a fairly driven person, I can get wound tight sometimes. It’s a reminder to me of the freedom that was gifted to me through Jesus. It’s not just a pretty thought, but a state of being. Like John 8:36 says, “If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”
Why did you go from Nashville to Alaska?
My full intention was to spend one summer adventure volunteering with a children’s program in Kodiak. I had just gone through a divorce and was looking to branch out. I had the tropics in mind, but God had better plans. I still miss the warmth.
Transformation is a theme in your work. Can you tell me more about that?
Transformation is my story in a nutshell, and I know I’m not the only one. My first summer in Kodiak I came to the island raw, vulnerable and insecure. Some people say that the veil between Heaven and Earth is thin here. My inner healing certainly accelerated that summer. The sea, mountains, colors of spring, soothed my soul.
I fell in love with life in Kodiak and came to know myself in a whole new way. I cried and danced my way through lively worship services, met the love of my life, unveiled my inner artist, and gave birth to my son here. After coming to Alaska broken, I am whole, confident, and unafraid. There is nothing I love more than to see beauty bloom through the mess.
What is your favorite piece that you have made?
I spend so much time with certain statement pieces, they tend to be my favorites. I like my big dragonfly pendant. Dragonflies represent transformation, and I used almost every technique in my toolbox on that one.
What is your favorite color and why?
Definitely turquoise! It’s that color of clear ocean water from an aerial view. I could stare at it all day. My Cherokee grandmother passed on some of her Navajo turquoise jewelry to me. It’s been my favorite since childhood. That’s why I love working with US mined turquoise.
Your long-term plan is to eventually teach survivors of human trafficking. What inspired you to set this goal?
This issue has been on my heart for a while. Last year I was able to begin donating both time and a portion of my profits to Priceless Alaska to address this issue in our state and town. Because freedom is so important to me, I have a deep desire to support those taking brave steps toward realizing their own freedom. It’s one thing to provide a way out. But once that first step is complete, ongoing support is extremely important, especially with regards to replacing livelihood. My dream is to be able to employ survivors of sex trafficking and provide them with training in a new skill set.
Human trafficking is a global issue – one that impacts communities without most people realizing it. Urban settings have the highest rates of trafficking with people being taken off of the streets. In a remote setting like Alaska, how does this take shape? In the cities, or elsewhere?
This is such an interesting question. Most people think of trafficking as kidnapping and physically holding individuals captive, usually for a commodity in the sex trade. While this is sometimes true, captivity can manifest in much more subtle ways in small towns, villages and rural areas. In Kodiak, one example of a vulnerable population are 18yr olds exiting foster care. Those with no job and nowhere to stay are easily coerced into trading sex for a couch. This is an entry point to forced prostitution. After that, control/manipulation/fear tactics and drug addiction create an invisible fence. They appear free, but the captivity is real.
What do you love most about Alaska?
I thought about this for a while. And what sums it up is connection. Up here, life is slower and simpler. It’s easier to maintain a connection to people and community. With the wild and untamed at your doorstep, connection is deeper to nature and wildlife. Spiritually, I am decidedly more connected since coming to Alaska, and I also find I am more connected to myself and my own story.
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