Painting with Stones
Anette Akselsen was born in Bergen, Norway, the very same town in which many of her ancestors were born. The hospital in which she came into this world sits on the original site of the first king of western Norway’s palace; the archeological digs are in the ground beneath. Anette is related to that king because, she says, “Everyone in Norway is related to the old kings. My family can be traced back 16 generations.” At that point, she says, “We’re getting close to Odin,” referring somewhat jokingly to the all-father of the Norse and Germanic gods, whose son was Thor.
Anette’s Danish mother met her father in Norway. During WWII, her mother’s prom dress was made from a salvaged paratrooper’s parachute silk and her resister grandfather’s cellar was used to plot against the Nazis. Anette’s parents brought her and her young brother to Rapid City, South Dakota when she was only two years old so her father could attend the South Dakota School of Mines for an engineering degree. She grew up speaking Norwegian, Danish and English.
“My dad was the first guy to leave the fiord in 1,000 years when he came to America, and they spoke no English,” she says of the stories her mom told her. After her father finished his graduate degree the family moved to Bakersfield, Calif., where Anette was put into an accelerated program combining first and second grade. Because of her father’s sought-after engineering skills, the family from the fiords relocated to Reading, Pa., where Anette attended third through seventh grades. She admits she was getting rather bored with her location by the time she was 12.
Like many who were hit with the Colorado bug after listening to John Denver’s Rocky Mountain High, Anette decided it was the place she wanted to be, but she was only 13 at the time. She wrote to all the Colorado chambers of commerce and laughs, “We started getting all these letters and brochures in the mail and my parents said, ‘Hey, let’s take a vacation in Colorado!’ We loved it and then next thing I know, they were buying a couple of acres of land on top of a little mountain in Conifer. The Waltons was on TV, so it was all about back to the land homesteading in 1975. We got Nubian goats and a trailer and then built a cabin. The goats were in the trailer because we weren’t really ready for winter… the goats tore that trailer apart.”
The family kept building on to the trailer until mom decided to move to the suburbs of Lakewood, where Anette got in on the ground floor of an experimental and experiential school. “It was based on the Summer Hill School in New York. I got to go to Hawaii and ride around in a helicopter doing gravity checks on the volcanoes.” Anette graduated in 1977 from the innovative Mountain Open High School.
“I didn’t want to be pigeon-holed, to narrow down your scope of training to be only one thing in your whole life, so I avoided making the decision of college and a vocation. I just wanted to explore the world. I think I come from a long lineage of explorers. One of my first goals in growing up was to be an archeologist and figure out what makes the world tick and where we come from. It’s such a big, beautiful world,” says the free spirit. “My next goal was to explore as many of the world’s remote areas as I could find.”
Anette spent her early 20s in Denver managing a jewelry store in the Tabor Center, sparking her interest and imagination in creating jewelry. Anette was not only doing the traditional embroidery at the age of five, she was also making her first jewelry. Her love of travel finally lead her to explore and she wound up in the Philippines and continued farther west. Anette figured out that importing might just be a good business for her to dive into since it merged creativity and travel. She and her former partner owned and ran the downtown import shop, Mabuhay, for 15 years. During that time, she met with native regional craftspeople in the various countries they visited—Bali, Nepal, and Thailand. “I usually sourced out women owned businesses to bring back for the store… clothing, jewelry and handicrafts,” she says, noting that the whole experience was a lesson in designing clothing and jewelry.
After separating from her partner in 2005, with her young son Jade and without employment, Anette had to reinvent herself. She turned to her first love, creative art, and became the artist she always wanted to be. When the market crashed in 2008, Anette boldly realized that this was the time to become serious about jewelry making and studying new techniques. Having honed her art for the past decade, Anette lets the materials “speak” to her.
“I’m like the conduit working with complementary stones and materials. I’m just really surprised and happy about what happens,” she smiles about her very fluid creations of silver wrapped into clasps with precious stones and gems, sometimes translucent, sometimes rich solid colors. She learned to use a natural approach to create specific textures, like oxidizing the silver with hard-boiled eggs because the sulphur in the eggs turns silver black, giving the necklaces a heavier, dark look which is trendy and popular right now.
“When I sit down at my worktable, and my materials are around, whether silver or gold, I’ll see some little glint of sunlight hitting the inside of a gem I’m working with and you can see a rainbow of a refraction and at that point I’m just really thrilled that I get to work with this piece of nature that’s got unbelievable colors, and it’s hidden it inside of a mountain,” she says.
Anette will trek to high vertical crags to find those gems, scaling Mt. Antero’s 14,000 feet, the highest source of aquamarine, Colorado’s official state stone. Coincidently, after visiting the exceptionally large aquamarine display at the Museum of Natural History in Denver, she met the prospector, Steve Broncato, of that displayed gem in a Glenwood Springs rock shop. He invited Anette to his mine on Antero after she convinced him that she could indeed handle the terrain up there.
“It was a scarier road than anything I’ve seen in Asia. It scared the hell out of me, and I’ve been in the Himalayas and the Andes, so I decided to get a driver. I thought Les Choy would be perfect. He drove my Pathfinder with Broncato and me up to the top and we got to spend three days at 13,000 feet. The mine shaft was like being in a crystal church. Everywhere were perfect points of smokey quartz, aquamarine and precious stones, lots of them. I learned that our mountains are filled with crystals on the inside. It turned me on to modern-day prospecting. I’ve since dug up black tourmaline at my secret dig and I’m starting to find blue beryl. One of my pastimes and loves is now digging for rocks.
“We live in one of the richest gem and mineral belts in the country,” says the rock hound.
Sourcing out gemstones for her jewelry has lead Anette into rather unusual situations and given her a sense of wonder of the world and exploring its beauty. She’s scoured the Bangkok markets, bargained with Afghani tribesmen in Nepal and she’s danced with a headhunter Filipino Ifugao tribal chief during a full moon ritual. In her travels she’s scaled volcanoes, like the perfect cone of the very steep Mt. Mayon in the Philippines, Tungurau in Ecuador and Gurung Agung in Bali, and, she points out, usually spontaneously and in inadequate footwear like flip flops.
Anette feels she’s drawing on the vast knowledge of her Viking ancestors in her life and her work. “I want to be a rounded person and ideally I’m a busy mom with my teenage son, Jade. I hike and ski… I came here for CBMR’s Ski Free in 1990 and never left because I fell in love with the place.”
This summer she taught three classes in jewelry making for the Crested Butte Center for the Arts with a fourth scheduled in September. In the spring, she joined the well-established artists of the Paragon Gallery, who sponsor the People’s Fair coming up this weekend with many local and regional artists selling their affordable creations. She also shows her jewelry in the Gunnison Gallery, Around the Corner Gallery in Montrose, and both the Grubstake Gallery and Pema Dawa on Elk Avenue downtown Crested Butte.
“I’m deeply appreciative that I get to do what I do in this amazing community. A lot of my life is about serendipity. Every morning we wake up and we’re going through this movie we call our lives where literally anything can happen and the world is so full of amazing possibilities. Maybe that’s why I’ve never been much of a planner, because I like to be open to the possibility of new experiences and adventures. I can really lose myself in my creativity and that’s when I think you’re getting close to the source of your true happiness—when you lose yourself in your art.”