By Kaitlyn Riley
It is nearly that time of the year again! Hearts, roses and jewelry will soon be found almost everywhere as Valentine’s Day approaches. Personally, my eye is on the gemstones that reflect the Alice in Dairyland program and the love I have for our state’s current and historic industries.
Thanks to the Midwest Jewelers Association, I travel with a constant reminder of Wisconsin’s diversity. I am proud to share the colorful story of the amethyst and citrines that make the Alice in Dairyland tiara complete. Our state has a rich heritage in mining — hence the miner on our state’s flag and the mascot of my alma mater, University of Wisconsin-Madison. In the 1820s, settlers flocked to Wisconsin because of a strong demand for lead, according to the Wisconsin Historical Society. Wisconsin became the Badger State because few miners wasted time building homes or shelters. Some simply burrowed holes into hillsides. After the need for lead dropped in the 1840s, zinc became a popular element.
Eventually, mineral collectors began using another popular element for custom jewelry: quartz. Quartz can be found in a variety of colors, such as the rich, purple amethyst or golden yellow citrine. In 1984, the Wisconsin Jewelers Association, now known as the Midwest Jewelers Association, decided to embody this history with the Alice in Dairyland tiara. By creating a custom design rather than using a rhinestone crown, the jewelers increased the visibility of the program while sharing the story of agriculture.
The first tiara created specifically for the Alice program was designed by Tony Denardo of Anderson Denardo Jewelers in Marinette. The 14-karat gold piece was crafted using eight native Wisconsin gems. The top was set with a natural Wisconsin Mississippi River freshwater pearl, and the center was a 21-carat amethyst. Pairs of citrines, amethysts and golden beryl surrounded the main piece. The newly designed tiara created a new tradition for the program. The Midwest Jewelers Association presents the outgoing Alice in Dairyland with an amethyst pendant to commemorate her year, as the tiara is passed down to the next woman who embraces the position.
That original tiara was lost nearly six years later. Karin Burg from the Corner Studio in Sheboygan Falls re-created the piece, but she added her own touch. Instead of the freshwater pearl, she used diamonds to encircle the center scallop. By 1999, Burg had modernized the tiara to the design I am proud to wear today. She spent weeks on the project, making each piece by hand.
CUSTOM-MADE: Karin Burg from Corner Studio Jewelers in Sheboygan Falls, Wis., designed and hand-made the current Alice in Dairyland tiara in 1999. It features a purple amethyst, golden yellow citrines and diamonds.
As some people may have noticed, Alice in Dairyland does not always wear the tiara at events such as school visits, tours or media interviews. In 2004, the Midwest Jewelers Association agreed to make a broach for those events. Goodman’s Jewelers of Madison made the broach as a replica of the tiara and the gemstones native to Wisconsin. You may notice the piece adorning the top of the Alice in Dairyland banner.
Although Alice in Dairyland wears a tiara and a broach, the woman selected for the role is no longer a beauty queen fresh out of high school, as she was when the program started with Margaret (McGuire) Blott in 1948. Today, she is a public relations professional with at least three years of experience or education in agriculture, communications or related fields.
The Alice in Dairyland program is proud to partner with groups such as the Midwest Jewelers Association to promote the diversity of Wisconsin agriculture, which gives the industry strength. As a new group of candidates begins the interview process to become the next Alice in Dairyland, it is my hope that they too find a love for Wisconsin’s heritage and history of agriculture.
Riley is the 71st Alice in Dairyland.