By Dawne Belloise
As the hillsides have suddenly turned into a lush green in contrast to the seemingly never-ending snows and the leaves have finally exploded on the trees and town prepares for the onslaught of tourists, Meaghan Young is busy with the final touches for her new jewelry boutique’s grand opening this Saturday.
Learning the arts of platinum and goldsmithing, diamond setting, hand engraving and wax carving have, in essence, been a lifelong process for Meaghan. Her design studio and the jewelry school she’s created is a culmination of years of planning, hard work and sometimes a struggle, but it’s been a dream since the day she sold her first handmade necklace, right off her own neck, to a customer on the other side of the bar she was tending.
Meaghan started off her young life in Carthage, New York in a log cabin her parents built. “We had 400 acres that my parents bought with my dad’s brother and his wife. My parents were Catholic and I remember my dad thinking they wanted a Christian commune, but that never happened,” she mused.
As children, Meaghan and her older sister, Maura, enjoyed living life off the land. “We played outside all the time, running around barefoot, planting gardens. We had huge vegetable gardens.” As a little girl, she was an award-winning Irish step dancer but she was also a bit of a self-proclaimed tomboy. “We’d take the tractor into the woods to cut down trees since we heated the house with wood. We built forts. We didn’t have TV because Dad wanted us to use our imaginations. I had an awesome childhood. My dad would take me everywhere—skiing, camping, canoeing, mountain climbing in the Adirondacks,” Meaghan recalls fondly and adds, “He’s the reason I ski.
“The local ski hill was called Ski Ridge, which was basically one long ridge, and that was it. We used to ski in jeans,” Meaghan confesses with a grin. “I went to a Catholic school up until tenth grade. Dad was a basketball coach and I really wanted to go to college to play basketball, but we’re all short,” she laughs of her family genetics. “I was the point guard through high school and I could make three-point shots all day long.” In fact, she admits proudly, she won trophies for that talent.
Meaghan graduated from high school in 1994, and says, “I didn’t know what I wanted to do but I went to SUNY [State University of New York] Cortland.” That is, until her mom sent her a newspaper clipping of a job opportunity at the Adirondack Lodge as a joke. Meaghan applied and was hired for the front desk summer position.
“The lodge was in the High Peaks region. It was a backcountry lodge with a campground at the trailhead for the highest mountains in the New York Adirondacks. All the staff lived on the grounds. It was one of the best summers of my life.”
As often happens at summer camps, Meaghan fell in love. She quit college and hitchhiked across the country with her new romance. “We hiked 40 miles across Yellowstone wilderness and came out at Jackson Hole. It was the most challenging hike I’ve ever done. I had a 60-pound pack on my back.”
They headed to Gunnison to visit a friend who was attending Western State (now Western Colorado University). “We stayed in the dorm with him for a week. It was September 1995 when we arrived and my boyfriend decided we needed to settle for the winter so we got jobs at Crested Butte Mountain Resort. I was front desk at the Crested Butte Lodge in Crested Mountain Village. I had to be at work at 7 a.m. and we were living in Gunnison, so I’d get up, walk across town in the middle of winter and hitchhike from High Country Gas station but sometimes I could not get a ride. Then I’d have to call Deedra Bennett-Schnaitter from the pay phone and tell her I couldn’t get a ride so she’d have to open for me,” Meaghan says of that epic 1996 winter where she learned to ski powder. “The skiing was awesome. I had never powder skied, and it was deep.”
In the spring when the lifts closed, the couple bought an old Jeep and drove back to New York to work for Adirondack Mountain Club again. Two years later, when they decided to go their separate ways, Meaghan moved to the Green Mountain Club on the Long Trail as a backcountry caretaker on Mt. Mansfield.
“I carried an axe, cleared trees and helped hikers who were doing the Long Trail,” says the mountain woman. “The hikers would stay in my cabin with me, which was one room with a plank floor and they’d sleep on the floor for $5 a night. I had my own little plank area,” she laughs.
Every week, Meaghan would get a day-and-a-half break from the isolation of remote mountain-top living, but it was no easy trek out to her car. It was straight uphill and so steep that it entailed climbing ladders to get out. Once she reached her car, she could drive down to the ski dorms at Stowe to do laundry and head out to Burlington for socializing at pubs with some brews and music before heading back into her wilderness.
She decided to leave the position early, before the end of her May-through-October job was completed, because, she says, “I’d be alone for days on end and I couldn’t take it anymore. The isolation was too much. I called a friend in Gunnison and told her I was considering returning. I have a car, a pair of skis and $600,” she told her friend, who then offered a place to live. Meaghan packed up the car and drove west. It was 1998.
The following year she moved to Crested Butte from Gunnison and was employed at the Avalanche, where she stayed for eight years, working her way up from busing to bartender. She was also attending Western State College for political writing, identity politics and gender studies. “I took a year off to write my thesis and train for the Telemark Extreme Comps but I tore my ACL,” and that was the end of the Extreme training. She went on to graduate in 2003. She was planning to head to the University of Arizona to get a masters in Latin American politics. “I wanted to be fluent in Spanish and Portuguese but life had a different plan for me.”
During a weekend trip to Ouray, she happened to go into a bead shop and was enthralled with the many colors and beauty of the beads. She made herself a necklace of the beads she had bought and while she was tending bar at Timberline one of her customers offered to buy it. “I sold her my necklace, right off my neck. At the other end of the bar, another woman who had noticed my necklace also wanted one, and so did her friend and I’m thinking, I can make money selling jewelry?”
A phone call to the Ouray bead store informed Meaghan that the shop was closing up for good that very day. She jumped in her truck and raced to Ouray. “I bought that same bead in every color she had, and she gave me all her vendor information, where to buy the clasps and everything. And that’s how I got into jewelry making. I began making necklaces and decided to go to California with a friend who was doing designer clothes trunk shows. I sold out of all my necklaces. I was putting pendants on my beaded necklaces and decided I wanted to learn to be a silversmith.”
In 2006, Meaghan landed a job at local jewelry shop Zachariah Zipp, “Noel suggested I go to The New Approach School for Jewelers in Virginia Beach. I didn’t have the tuition money or a car to make it happen but I knew I was going somehow.” Her mom got her a car and a friend cosigned for her tuition loan. “I packed up my dog and drove across the country for the three-month program. It was a tech school, eight hours a day for three months. I learned diamond setting, gold and platinum smithing, hand engraving and wax carving. My plan was to return and be the jeweler at Zachariah Zipp.”
But when the owner of the school offered her a job to assist in running the school, Meaghan jumped at the opportunity, “I came back to Crested Butte and sold everything I owned.”
Meaghan stayed at the school in Virginia Beach for a few years, meeting the father of her now 10-year-old son, Jack. They married in 2008, while her husband was stationed in the Navy Special Forces there, and then transferred to San Diego.
It was an especially difficult time for Meaghan. “My father, who was in North Carolina, was dying of cancer, and I had a three-month-old baby. There were so many challenges—my father passed away, our Virginia Beach house wouldn’t sell because it was the market crash, so financially we were strapped. I had started my own jewelry company, My Om Designs. I also became a yoga teacher. My designs were yoga-oriented, lotus designs. I started traveling to go to Yoga Journal conferences and yoga festivals to sell my jewelry, mostly in California but from San Francisco to NYC. It was super promising with almost breakthrough moments, and then silver went from $15 an ounce to $50.”
With the many difficulties in their lives, Meaghan and her husband divorced and she was left on her own as a single mom to deal with the loss of her father.
“Everything came crashing down. I tried to make it on my own in California as a single mom but it was so expensive and I had very few friends. I decided to visit Crested Butte,” and that turned it for her. She moved back with her son in 2012. “It was a hard decision but I basically grew up here, spending all my twenties here and all my really good friends were here and they were all having children. I felt I needed support, especially as a single mom. It was the best decision I could have made for myself and my son.”
Starting out in property management for Crested Butte Property Management, she eventually branched out on her own after a few years. “At one point I was teaching yoga, teaching silversmithing, I was helping to run a property management company while doing some of my own on the side and trying to work on my jewelry, all while raising a three-year-old son. I was really stressed out! Luckily, my mom moved out here in December 2012 and helped me immensely. That changed everything for me.”
Fast-forward to the present and Meaghan has conquered her dreams, opening the Crested Butte Jewelry School above Marchitelli’s Gourmet Noodle. “The school is really important to me because I love teaching. It’s really cool that more and more women want to express themselves creatively and want to learn the art of silversmithing. Historically, jewelers are men, but when I went to school, half the class was women and 98 percent of students that I teach are women.”
And this week, Meaghan Young Jewelry Design, her new jewelry boutique design studio, opens on the corner of Elk and Third, just behind Lavish. “I’m giving away a $3,500 custom engagement ring at the opening. To be eligible you must sign up online www.meaghanyoungjewelry.com.”
Meaghan felt that it was important that both her school and studio were in the heart of Crested Butte’s Creative District, but she felt it equally important to be able to reach those creatives who aren’t in a position to attend in person, so her classes are now also online. “I wanted to reach more people. People who live in certain areas of the country who don’t have access to nearby classes can take my online course. When I wanted to become a silversmith, online resources weren’t available to me. This is a comprehensive course where you can successfully become a silversmith.”
Meaghan has found her place and feels fortunate. “I absolutely love and adore this community. I’m so grateful for all of the support I’ve received from friends and business people, too. Someday, I want to travel the world. I’ve worked ridiculously hard and have wanted to give up several times,” she says, but her encouragement to others who are struggling is, “Never give up on your dreams, your goals or yourself.”