MADELINE ELLIS IS A MAKER. She’s always had the urge to create things — if she couldn’t find the exact thing she wanted (an article of clothing, a purse, a piece of jewelry), she made it herself. The first thing she created from scratch was a purple-and-white striped sundress in third grade. She still remembers the exhilaration she felt when she wore it to school.
“It was this freedom,” Ellis says. “I can make what I want!”
Born in Thibodaux, Louisiana, Ellis identifies as a “South Louisianan” — her “hometown” jumped from one major regional city to the next: Houma, New Orleans, Denham Springs and finally Baton Rouge, where she settled during college to study landscape architecture at Louisiana State University (LSU).
As a high school graduation gift, her mother sent her on a trip to England and France, sparking a love of international travel. She made bracelets and necklaces strung with beads she collected while abroad visiting friends or participating in internships. Costa Rica, Thailand, Cambodia, India, China — Ellis would thread beads purchased from each country into wearable mementos of her time spent abroad and give them to her friends, with a story to accompany each bead. This was her first inkling of the deeper conversation that jewelry can inspire. After LSU, she landed a job at a landscape firm and found herself with free time. A self-described busybody, she returned to jewelry making.
Her technique evolved from beading to jewelry made from polystyrene Shrinky Dink paper, to kiln-fired glazed ceramics (a method with which she fell in love in Costa Rica) and precious metal clay. These techniques were great starters, but some were expensive and most limited the size or durability of the piece she could make.
By 2008, piles of handmade jewelry began to obscure the kitchen table. Her husband Dawson encouraged her to sell it.
“I’m not entrepreneurially minded that way,” she says. “I probably would have just been sitting at the table making jewelry forever. … Once I started interacting with customers and telling the stories behind my pieces and getting to know [shoppers], I actually really enjoyed it.”
She began her jewelry company, MIMOSA Handcrafted (www.mimosahandcrafted.com; @mimosahandcrafted on Instagram), with nothing more than an online Etsy store and a plan to sell at art markets. In 2009, Ellis quit her job and decided to try jewelry making as her full-time gig. MIMOSA steadily grew from a side hustle to a bustling business, and in 2015 her husband sold his share of his landscaping business and joined the MIMOSA staff.
With new tools and an extra pair of hands, Ellis began lost wax casting, a many-millennia-old technique in which molten metal is poured into a mold made from a reusable template. This method was a serious upgrade — she could create sturdier designs of all sizes faster and in larger quantities, since a mold didn’t need to be carved for each piece.
“I never looked back,” she says.
Production ramped up quickly. Shop owners in Baton Rouge and New Orleans approached Ellis about selling her jewelry. Her collections are available at several local stores, including Home Malone in Mid-City, both locations of Dirty Coast, the Ogden Museum of Southern Art and Lee Michael’s Fine Jewelry.
Many of her pieces feature Louisiana iconography — shelled pecans, oysters, pelicans, magnolias and irises in bronze, sterling silver and gold — but her design aesthetic is taking on a more serious tone, too.
“I’m no longer just making things for a Louisiana-specific audience,” she says. “When I think of stories to tell, it includes a much bigger picture. … [Jewelry] gives you a small, wearable platform for a bigger conversation.”
Those stories and conversations can include history, inspired by the River collection (a design based on maps of the Mississippi River drawn by cartographer Harold Fisk in the 1940s); mindfulness, inspired by the Breathe collection (based on four-count square or box breathing techniques); or relationships, inspired by the Soul Friend collection which features the words “soul friend” in Gaelic, written in Ogham, an ancient Irish script. She’s currently planning a collection that addresses the stigmas surrounding mental health.
“[Jewelry] creates an opportunity for connection between people,” she says. “If I can make a piece of jewelry that helps facilitate connection and conversation, that really needs to happen. I know that seems like a big, audacious thing to say for a bracelet, but I’ve seen it happen and I know it can. … [I try] to make sure I’m doing my part in this world to create a space for that.”
Favorite holiday song? “‘White Christmas.’ I love that movie.”
Favorite thing about New Orleans? “This is going to sound cheesy, but … it would be Audubon Zoo. … When I was living [in New Orleans, my dad would take me] to the zoo every other weekend. It felt like an extension of home.”
What TV show are you currently binge watching? “Always and forever ‘The Office.’”
What’s your favorite thing to cook? “Smoothies. [Laughs.] I’m not really into cooking.”
Is it “po-boy” or “poor-boy?” “Po-boy, absolutely.”
Vintage Louisiana map — “This map hung in my grandparents’ house for as long as I can remember. … It’s wild to see how much the coastline has changed.”
Colorful necklace — first piece of jewelry she made
Necklace made of staples — “When [my husband] Dawson and I started dating in college, he made me this necklace out of staples.”
Wooden Fijian woman — “I got this on (my) honeymoon to Fiji. She’s been watching us build our life together ever since.”
Grandmother’s wedding rings — “[After my grandmother died], my dad and his three sisters (drew) straws to see who would get what. He … chose the rings because he didn’t want my aunts to fight over them, and they made him promise he’d give them to me. He did, and I wear (them) every single day.”
Baby blanket — “When my mom was pregnant with me, my grandmother told my mom she needed her help to make a baby blanket for a friend. … At my mom’s baby shower, my grandmother surprised her and gave her the blanket they made together. It makes me choke up now, just telling that story!”
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