Rocking Cream City Rocks

A hobby turns to beautiful business for local jewelry makers.

BY NICOLE KIEFERT  |  PHOTOS BY DAVID SZYMANSKI

Hillery Dennis (left) and Robyn Schoenung

Robyn Schoenung and Hillery Dennis first met nine years ago through their full-time jobs with Educational Credential Evaluators, a nonprofit organization that evaluates
foreign credentials.

Growing closer, the pair, along with a few other work friends, decided to forgo exchanging Christmas gifts one year and get together to create jewelry instead. “One of our friends had made simple jewelry in the past, years and years prior, so she had a few supplies and had the wherewithal of the basics, but that was just more of the stone and metalwork, the wire wrapping, that kind of thing,” Dennis explains. “[After that] we kept buying sea beads just because they’re so pretty, and then [we thought,] ‘What do we do with these?’

The advanced weaving happened two years later.”

Schoenung and Dennis were the only two who stuck with jewelry-making, and from there their business, Cream City Rocks, took shape. “We tried to rope in the others, but it was just for fun and we really enjoyed it,” Schoenung says.

Adds Dennis, “We kept making more than we can actually use and then buying more supplies than we really should have, without making some sort of turnaround, so we thought, ‘Oh, let’s give it a try.’”

Now the duo crafts beautiful, custom earrings, necklaces and bracelets that they sell at shows like Milwaukee Makers Market, Madison Night Market, Holy Hill Art Farm, Hover Craft MKE, Cream City Creatives and some school fairs. Cream City Rocks pieces are also available at local boutiques like Swoon and KitschëCoo Unique Gifts & Classes, Faded Roots Boutique in Sun Prairie, and in two shops in Minnesota.

When their craft fair efforts proved successful, the ladies took the next step and opened an Etsy shop under the same name. Though they reserve necklaces and bracelets for shows and local boutiques, the online shop offers an array of intricate, handcrafted earrings, sure to bring out the boho chic in anyone. “The [Etsy] notification goes off if we sold something — and it’s now become like a Pavlov tone,” Dennis says. “It already evokes these feelings of excitement, as well as fear.”

“‘What do I have to make?!’ ‘Which big piece [sold]?!’” Schoenung adds. “Because we put our really big ones on there.”

“We do try to keep costs low, just because we want to share our art with people, and we see that it means something,” Dennis continues. “Which is what we wanted in the first place. So we try and be as fair as possible without completely losing ourselves in that.”

Schoenung and Dennis share that beading and creating jewelry is both fun and therapeutic for them, even when it takes many hours to create a single piece. For example, one pair of intricately crafted earrings can take up to eight hours to complete.

“Watching the process come from [our mind] to the design to fruition is really an awesome process,” Dennis notes. “Once you finish that piece, most of the time it’s like, ‘Aha! Oh my gosh, it worked!’”

The duo is also happy to to take requests for items in specific colors, if desired, and they enjoy seeing the color ideas that result and break them out of their comfort zones.
“We always tend to fall into the same color palette,” Schoenung explains. “Even with these earrings [I have on], I asked my son to pick out colors and I asked my husband to pick out colors for another earring because I look at my wall of beads and I’m always like, ‘This one and this one.’” Schoenung admits to favoring mustard, navy and rust color patterns, while Dennis feels most comfort from cool blues and greens.

In addition to offering custom colors, the women are happy to swap in allergen-free metals when customers request them, because they’ve experienced metal sensitivities themselves.

With designs and colors always in the back of their minds, Schoenung and Dennis notice themselves finding inspiration everywhere — even in the most ordinary or unusual circumstances. “I see patterns everywhere now,” Dennis exclaims. “We were at Flat Out Friday for the motorcycle races and they’re lining up to go and I’m like, ‘That guy’s shirt would totally make a good earring.’”

“I bought tile yesterday and I [thought], ‘I could make that into an earring,’” Schoenung agrees.

“It’s always exciting because I’ll get a text from [Hillery] and it’ll just be her name and I’m like, ‘Oh, it’s a picture!’ I open it up and I’m like, ‘Oh my god, when did you learn to do that?’ She’s definitely expanding into more stitches,” Schoenung says proudly.

“I’m a big fan of learning new techniques out there,” Dennis explains.

Adding new techniques, stitches and variations has offered the creators the chance to grow with their craft, which provides a fun look back when they see old pieces. “I look back at the pictures of our booth that [we] took and it was just this one little tiny table,” Dennis says. “It’s interesting to see how far we’ve come in such a short amount of time. It’s crazy. … There are a lot of things that I’ve made my mother. She’ll still wear them … and I’m like, ‘Can I just fix that?’”

“I have a box of things labeled ‘Fix Me’ or ‘Destroy’ basically,” Schoenung chimes in.

That evolution has led to Etsy sales around the globe, with pieces shipped to happy customers as far away as France, Spain and England. Several repeat customers reside in Hawaii. And though their wares are packaged securely, if the product has been damaged in shipping, the duo is happy to fix the items. “We want people to know that if you buy stuff from us we stand behind it, because it’s art for us,” Dennis explains. “You’re wearing a piece of our art, which … it’s a strange feeling. All of these creations we’ve put out there, somebody’s walking around with our art, on their person.” MKE

 

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