Meet the multidisciplinary Tlingit artist behind Starbucks new merch

To hold one of the Starbucks cups by multidisciplinary Tlingit artist Alison Bremner is to hold part of her own story. Her designs are influenced by the ancient artform practiced by her ancestors layered with contemporary patterns – reflecting the duality of her experiences woven together into something entirely her own. Now her art will be featured on the latest collection of drinkware at participating U.S. stores this winter as part of Starbucks Artist Collaboration Series, which celebrates the unique stories of artists from all over the world. 

Bremner’s father spent his childhood in the coastal village of Yakutat, Alaska (population 500), immersed in the traditional Tlingit lifestyle, while her mother grew up on Bainbridge Island, just a ferry ride away from Seattle. “My parents had two very different upbringings, and I really liked being able to bring those two together in this collection. It’s meant to be,” Bremner said. 

Her interest in art was sparked in 2010 at a gathering of Southeast Alaska Native peoples in Juneau. She was immersed in the art of formline painted and carved all around her – seeing it on screens, blankets, masks and totem poles – with simple, curving shapes that combine to create complex compositions that express the natural and spiritual worlds with balance and harmony. Bremner also describes formline as a two-dimensional system of design. “Just seeing our art form being danced, like massive transformation masks, all of our regalia and just that incredible feeling of seeing our art come to life – I knew that I had to be an artist,” she said.  

Despite having no traditional art training, she immediately went to the mall, bought a canvas, and did her first painting. “Looking back, the formline is terrible,” she said. “But I’m still really proud of the feeling behind it.” She soon after immersed herself in Tlingit culture and art, becoming an apprentice to master carvers and ultimately  becoming the first Tlingit woman to carve  and raise her own totem pole, a tribute to her grandfather. She also became skilled in painting, regalia and digital collage while learning the Tlingit language. Bremner said, “Formline has a really strict set of rules that make it go together the way it does, but if you do it well it ends up looking effortless.” 

Photo: Sydney Akagi

Now Bremner lives in Seattle and creates art for ceremonial use and pieces featured in galleries and museums, including the British Museum in London, Château Musée Boulogne-sur-Mer in France and Seattle’s Burke Museum. For the ceremonial pieces, she uses the traditional colors of red, black and turquoise and clan crests that are owned by the clan. For her contemporary work, she draws inspiration from a broad range of forms and colors, often with a note of whimsy, such as a formline depiction of Burt Reyolds reclining on a cedar paddle or a screenprint tribute to the power of coffee titled “Decaf/Regular.” Connection is at the heart of the Starbucks Experience, and Bremner uses humor as a way to bring people together. She said, “I try to include a good amount of humor in my work because I find that it brings in people who might not be familiar with formline or Tlingit culture. If I can make someone laugh through my artwork, it creates a connection and hopefully they'll be interested in learning more.” 

Bremner’s drinkware collection, designed exclusively for Starbucks, includes a 12-ounce (tall) ceramic tumbler, a 24-ounce (venti) plastic cold cup, and a 16-ounce stainless tumbler, while supplies last. 

This 12-ounce ceramic tumbler was the first cup Bremner designed for the collection, with a layered design that features a formline figure atop a pattern of roses against a shimmering pink background. “I knew I wanted to do a front-facing view of a face because it's such a hallmark of Tlingit design. Even if folks don't recognize it, there’s a relatability,” Bremner said. The pattern of gardenias (her mother’s favorite flower) was inspired by a mid-century wallpaper catalog. “In the 1950s in rural Alaska, one of the main ways to view Western trends and what was happening in the broader world was a mail-order catalog. I was inspired by the happy feelings I got from it,” she said.

“I knew I wanted to do a front-facing view of a face because it's such a hallmark of Tlingit design.”

Bremner’s 24-ounce cold cup is a tribute to both her Alaskan roots and Starbucks origin, with a central formline bird figure in the Tlingit tradition adorned with Northwest ferns. “I grew up in Alaska and Starbucks was born in the Pacific Northwest so I wanted to have that homage,” she said.

“I grew up in Alaska and Starbucks was born in the Pacific Northwest so I wanted to have that homage.”

This elegant 16-ounce stainless steel tumbler shows an abstract bird-inspired design in profile in a gold metallic formline  with a bit of splatter to add movement. “I’m usually pretty excited to drink coffee, so I hope the splash would give some energy to seize the day,” she said. 

“I’m usually pretty excited to drink coffee, so I hope the splash would give some energy to seize the day.”

“I really wanted a happy collection, celebrating having formline on such a large scale,” Bremer said. “I want people to feel like the cup belongs to them. I hope that when they see it, they feel very welcome and it’s something that brings them joy throughout their day.” 

Celebrating Indigenous communities year-round   

Starbucks celebrates the contributions of Indigenous Peoples across the continental United States, Alaska, and Hawai‘i alongside its partner (employee) network Indigenous Partner Network, local communities, and in its stores, and is committed to leading meaningful partner programing and community initiatives year-round. Starbucks supports and collaborates with The National Congress of American Indians (NCAI), which is the oldest and largest American Indian and Alaska Native organization. In 2021, Starbucks opened its first Community Store dedicated to the Navajo Nation – one of the most populous Native American Tribes in the United States. Located in Gallup, New Mexico, the store has also celebrated the dedication of its first Community Store in the state of Hawai‘i supporting the Wai‘anae community, home to many Native Hawaiians and Indigenous Peoples.  

This year, Starbucks Indigenous Partner Network selected Peacekeeper Society as its charity partner. To get involved or learn more about the Indigenous-led organization’s meaningful impact on local communities, visit here.

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What’s inside a more accessible and inclusive Starbucks store?