Youthful Metals Brings High-Concept Jewelry to Life in Ventura
Gab Klassen’s Whimsically Beaded Pieces Reflect Their Psyche
When Gab Klassen worked as a production designer at the Independent in the early 2010s, the soon-to-be beader (whose pronouns are they/them) never thought jewelry-making was a viable outlet for their creativity.
Klassen’s boss at the time, former advertising production manager Megan Packard Hillegas, is a silversmith who could whip up wedding bands in a couple hours, just like that. In fact, she customized the sterling silver rings for the then-newlywed Klassens. It was a skill that felt so out of reach to Klassen. “I have this copper cursive cutout that says Gabby,” they said. “And I’m like, ‘This is so unattainable.’”
Fortunately, Klassen would find out the blingiest genre of craftsmanship doesn’t require a blacksmith’s toolbox. Enter Youthful Metals, their whimsical brand of cleverly beaded concoctions.
You’ll find no adherence to a specific aesthetic in their work. But you’ll take in a dizzying array of bold colors and zany geometry. There’s no formula for a Youthful Metals piece — instead you’ll scope out a chaotic assemblage of charms here, an unexpected arrangement of seed beads there, and a whole lot of sweeping lampwork curvature.
“My business started picking up when I would make pieces that represented something,” the Ventura-based artist said. To celebrate their 8-year wedding anniversary, Klassen made a statement piece about — what else? — Elliott Smith’s seminal album Figure 8. On one of their first dates with their partner, the two “drunkenly wrestled over who was better — Elliott Smith or Conor Oberst.” That debate was never settled, but at least it inspired one of their most emotionally charged works to date.
“I have people commenting things like, ‘I never knew a necklace could make you feel sad, but in the best way,’” Klassen said. “I was like, that’s really just such an amazing comment.”
Back in grad school at the California Institute for Integral Studies in San Francisco, Klassen studied expressive art therapy. They had an equal interest in both the therapy and art aspects. “They really wanted you to explore so many different mediums so you could kind of figure out all different ways of expressing,” the beadsmith said.
Klassen would use a lot of crayons and oil pastels. Clay was also a go-to. “So when I came out of it and didn’t pursue being a therapist, I knew I could still do art,” they said. “That’s kind of how I see my practice because in expressive art therapy, you learn that art is not a product — or I guess you unlearn art as a product.” Instead, their work has become more of an expression of their psyche.
Here’s an example: most of Klassen’s ideas find them. “A lot of my pieces, I feel, are reverse engineered,” they said. “I’ll create something, and then I’ll match it to the inspiration after.” They reference the fantastical story of Ruth Stone’s writing process, where the late writer had to “catch her poems by the tail” to get them on paper. The words already existed inside of her; it was just a matter of retrieving them.
If you made a word cloud of our conversation, “tactile” would stand out. “When I was in school, I didn’t know that I was autistic,” Klassen said. “That’s something that I found out after I graduated, and I think it could have pointed to why I was interested in a lot of different mediums because of the tactile nature. Which is very true for jewelry-making for me.”
It’s no surprise, then, that accessibility and tactility have become the core tenets of the Youthful Metals art philosophy. Their neurodivergence inspired a color-blocked collection of pop-fidget pieces to stimulate more senses than the typical necklace.
“As a disabled person, especially during the pandemic, and needing access to a job, some sort of job security, some sort of income — this has been more than I could have imagined,” they said.
During Pride 2021, Klassen — who’s trans non-binary — made a transgender flag-themed collection that reflected their identity. The positive response lit a fire. They went on to create collections supporting Palestinian children and Afghan refugees, where all the proceeds ($400 for the former) were donated. “That’s sort of how I started my business model, is wanting there to be mutual aid involved or supporting an organization, or even a political platform,” they said.
“Jewelry is such an interesting medium. Once you get it into — it seems not deep, but it really is deep,” they added. “I’m constantly like, ‘this is fucking high art. Like who are we, doing this in our bedrooms?’”
For more of their jewelry, see youthfulmetals.com.
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