Photo by Katy's American Indian Arts

Coming in all shapes and sizes, and every color imaginable in the rainbow, dangly, dapper, or decorative, whatever the configuration, jewelry is a truly flexible art form that has doubled as a fashion accessory for millennia. Across the Greater Madison area, a number of professionals showcase a variety of jewelry mediums in an assortment of retail shops.

Photograph by Katy’s American Indian Arts

Katy’s American Indian Arts

Katy Schalles, the namesake owner of Katy’s American Indian Arts, began selling authentic American Indian jewelry out of her parents’ Waunakee antique shop in the hopes of sharing the medium with a wider audience. Historically, Katy says jewelry has long been popular in the Navajo and Pueblo tribes in the southwest corner of the United States. “[American] Indian jewelry wasn’t really known outside Arizona or New Mexico,” Katy says of the time she began selling 45 years ago.

Culturally, American Indian art has long had deep meaning behind it. “There’s a spiritual value that goes into creating their art,” Katy says. “There’s a deep respect for natural resources. They are one with the earth, with nature, and the spiritual view of that. It’s a visible, tangible element that’s obvious in their work.”

Because of the care that goes into making each piece of jewelry, the majority of American Indian art—approximately 80 percent, by Katy’s estimate—are one-of-a-kind pieces. Certain families create repeated designs, but the designs are unique to the particular family. The variety of authentic pieces in Katy’s store includes bracelets, earrings, and necklaces. An eclectic collection of craft items are also in the mix, including drums, natural smudging sticks, and tobacco.

In addition to selling American Indian artists’ authentic works, Katy’s interactions with the community have included a series of immersive experiences, one of which was a six-year stint teaching middle school in Las Cruces, New Mexico. While in the Southwest, Katy’s relationship with American Indian artist communities expanded. “I had gotten to know quite a few different [American] Indian artists,” she says. “It just started to grow and grow as time went on.”

Having operated her own business in the Madison area since 1974, Katy’s key principle behind her entrepreneurial endeavors is to give American Indian artists a place to sell their own works. “The niche that I have isn’t very broad, but it’s very deep,” she says. “My customers over the years have lovingly seen to that.”

Photograph by Megan Auman

Madison Museum of Contemporary Art

One of the many features within Madison Museum of Contemporary Art (MMoCA) is its museum store, which sells a variety of items, including fine jewelry. “I would say we have a very unique, atypical collection,” says Erika Monroe-Kane, director of strategic communications and engagement. “We represent a wide range of jewelers and jewelry.”

The artists behind the jewelry run the gamut, geographically speaking. Hannah Wong of Madison is among the artists who have available handcrafted pieces for purchase. “She’s very clever and uses a number of different techniques,” Erika says. “Her work is very contemporary, but it has a very timeless quality. She has a great eye for color.”

Much like the museum itself, the goal of MMoCA’s store is to represent diverse art forms. Some of the pieces have more of a bohemian style, while others have a bent toward what Erika describes as a “super cool, edgy” feel. “They draw on the maker’s inspiration,” she says. “They’re handmade one-of-a-kinds.”

Curating the jewelry collection and other art forms is the result of an ongoing, extensive, years-long process that involves traveling to different venues and events in other areas of the country, including New York City. “We tell [the artists] what we’re looking for, and a lot of times it just jives,” says Leslie Genszler, MMoCA’s director of retail operations. “We’re creating a marketplace for artists, and it results in a dynamic community.”

Proceeds from all sales go toward supporting the museum itself, which offers free admission, and fortifying the organization’s mission of being an independent space that gives visitors a glimpse into various types of modern and contemporary art. Store proceeds also go toward other initiatives, such as assisting arts education in classrooms.

Photograph by Dennis Dahl

The Opal Man

For nearly 50 years, Dennis Dahl has made opal his life’s work. The decision to specialize in the gemstone was appealing from the get-go. “The variety is endless,” Dennis says as he lays out the reasons why he has worked with opal for nearly a half-century. “There are different patterns. There are different types.”

When he first entered the profession in the early 1970s, Dennis honed his skills in Australia and then eventually brought his skills back to the United States. “Opal has actually become pretty popular here in the states,” he says. “It is really an intriguing stone once you start to see the different varieties.”

Dennis and his staff provide a range of services with opal, including polishing rough stones and designing custom jewelry. As he has honed his skills over the years, Dennis has been considered within the trade a master opal cutter. He has been operating his shop out of a historic building in Spring Green since 2010, and recently opened a second retail operation in Lake Geneva.

As demonstrated by the Greater Madison area retail shops, jewelry comes in a range of colors, sizes, and textures. The artisans behind these unique pieces oftentimes share a unique window into their creative world while giving customers an opportunity to adorn their wardrobe with a new fashion accessory.

Dave Fidlin is a freelance writer who has a special affinity for Madison. Dave’s career spans nearly 20 years, and he’s grateful for the opportunity to learn something new each day through his professional pursuits.

Katy’s American Indian Arts

1817 Monroe Street
Madison, WI 53711
(608) 251-5451

Madison Museum of Contemporary Art

227 State Street
Madison, WI 53703
(608) 257-0158

The Opal Man

137 S. Winsted Street
Spring Green, WI 53588
(608) 588-9317