An Ancient and Contemporary Path

By Sarah Elisabeth Sawyer, Artist in Business Leadership Fellow 2015

At 8 years old, Jason Brown (Penobscot) learned from elders how to bead, to string necklaces. Then door to door he went in his community of Indian Island, Maine, selling his jewelry. His path was set. He walked it through his teen years, and jewelry making became his source of income. 

The path led Jason to the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe for a fine arts degree, and then he spent years in the fine gift and jewelry industries, perfecting his metalsmithing techniques. Now it’s led to the jewelry studio Decontie and Brown, named for him and his wife, Donna Decontie Brown.

Jason works with raw materials including copper, brown ash, deer antler, quohog shell (wampum) and semiprecious gemstones to bring life to the designs in his imagination. Historically, his people hired metalsmiths and jewelers to create their adornments. He’s breaking new ground as a contemporary Wabanaki jeweler.

Jason’s people have used copper and brown ash since ancient times. Copper was mined in the Bay of Fundy and used for adornment. The Wabanaki creation story tells of the brown ash tree. Jason combines these elements for the “Creation” cuff, a reflection of his culture. He captures a layer of woven brown ash between two pieces of copper with a design he cuts on the top piece. The cuff depicts the story of Gluskap who shot an arrow into the brown ash tree and split the trunk, where the Wabanaki people came from.

One of these cuffs is in the permanent collection at the Historic New England Museum.

An established Wabanaki Native artist, Jason shines a light on his little-known community and culture, calls attention to other Native artists and is a cultural ambassador for his people.

As Jason continues his journey, he reaches back and helps others find their paths.