The landscape of the Upper Peninsula -- from birch trees in deep forests to pebbles along the majestic Lake Superior shoreline -- has been the inspiration for Beth Millner's hand-crafted jewelry and artisan goods.
Her jewelry designs feature trees, waves, animals, flowers and other objects native to the area. Each piece is made of recycled materials and is carefully handcrafted in the studio above the shop.
The Wisconsin native first opened her business as an online store in 2007, working from home. Growing demand prompted her to open a storefront and studio on Marquette's Washington Street just a few years later, and that's where Beth Millner Jewelry is now established.
“We are very proud to have a business like Beth Millner Jewelry in downtown Marquette. They have been a great partner in many different downtown events throughout the years,” said Tara Laase-McKinney, executive director of the Marquette Downtown Development Authority.
The environment is more than a source for Millner. It's also a cause. For every item purchased from her artisan goods collection, which includes handmade prints, cards, sketchbooks and puzzles, a tree is donated to a national forest. So far, 965 trees have been planted and more than $52,000 has been given to local nonprofits through the business’s jewelry fundraiser program.
“BMJ is a wonderful example of a business that truly cares for the community with its commitment to giving back to local non-profit organizations through the sale of special pendants. We look forward to continuing this relationship for years to come,” Laase-McKinney said.
U.P. and nature-inspired art
All Millner's jewelry is ecofriendly, made from recycled silver, copper, brass or gold with local stones used for an array of unique pendants, earrings, rings and more. Recently, Beth Millner Jewelry has made jewelry inspired by the northern lights, which “sold out immediately,” Millner said.
Custom wedding bands and other gift-related items for special occasions, like commemorating a loved one or celebrating a graduation, are made on site. Her team works diligently with anyone wanting a personalized piece to ensure the finished product is exactly what they’re looking for, Millner said.
But that’s not the only ecofriendly aspect of the business -- Beth Millner Jewelry uses recycled packaging and compostable plastic baggies and all the dust swept off the floor is refined for precious metals.
Ever since she was a kid, Beth Millner, now 38, has enjoyed making art.
“I grew up in Marinette, Wisconsin, and as a child I remember making friendship bracelets … I even dabbled with Sculpey clay (type of polymer clay) to make homemade beads,” she recalled.
Millner briefly attended the University of Wisconsin, Marinette Campus, but fell in love with Marquette while visiting friends.
“It was the first time I’d been there, and I decided that was it – I’m moving there forever,” she laughed. “Marquette is beautiful and has all the things I enjoy about being in the Northwoods region but also has a hip downtown with plenty of things going on.”
Millner graduated from Northern Michigan University in 2008 with a bachelor's degree of fine arts in metalsmithing, studying under Professor Dale Wedig, the head of the metalsmithing and sculpture departments.
“I wasn’t sure what medium I wanted to focus on at first. I thought it might be painting because I love to paint, but I took a jewelry course where we learned metalsmithing,” she said. “We were working with saws, hammers and torches, which I really knew nothing about, but I liked it because I could draw my designs and then I got to work with physical objects after. I was hooked at that point and made metalsmithing my major.”
First sale: Etsy Shop
Beth Millner Jewelry first opened as an online business on Etsy in 2007.
Around this time, she also taught metalsmithing workshops and sold jewelry at art and music festivals, sometimes traveling across country in a small camper and station wagon with her partner, Mike Hainstock. He owns Lakeshore Depot, a newer Marquette grocery store that sells local produce and meats.
Millner continued to work from home for several years with her studio in her kitchen until she purchased the Washington Street building in 2012.
That first year in the shop Millner was busy not only designing and making jewelry, but also taking care of customers, with little help.
“A year after I opened the store, I hired a full-time manager and eventually a few others so I could design jewelry,” Millner said.
Now she has seven employees, most of whom are long-term, including Nina Lehto-Clark, who works in the studio alongside Millner.
The store's success recently prompted Millner to increase its employee benefit package, offering health insurance, living wages, paid holidays, paid parental leave, paid birthday, maternity leave, paid vacation, sick leave, student loan assistance, a professional development stipend, as well as wellness reimbursements.
“For me, our mission is about being good to the environment, our community and employees,” Millner said. “I’ve always kind of felt that if you follow your intuition and do what’s right for people, it always works in the end. It doesn’t mean you can do that year one necessarily, but I feel fortunate to be one of few businesses of this size in this town that’s retail that can offer that kind of compensation package, but it’s really my team that made it possible. Without their help and selling the items, we wouldn’t be where we are today.”
Student becomes teacher
Millner stepped away from the shop last year and taught full time at NMU, covering for Wedig, her college mentor, who was on sabbatical for a semester.
“You really look up to your college professors and mentors and he’s always been available to me if I had any questions after all these years,” Millner said. “So, to think he trusted me to take over and do a good job was pretty rewarding. I actually hired one of the students I had in that class after the fact. She’s been a perfect fit.”
Wedig said it was a no-brainer to have Millner step in during his absence.
“Beth did a great job the semester she taught my classes while I was on sabbatical. It was a great opportunity for my students to have a new perspective and fresh approach toward creating small metal work,” he said. “With Beth taking over I was confident I would not be missed, and the students would have a great learning experience.”
Beth Millner Jewelry was recognized for its efforts to give back to the community in October 2021. The business was the recipient of a Catalyst Award presented by the Community Foundation of Marquette County.
“At the Foundation, our core value is ‘Community First’ and our Catalyst honorees truly reflect that through their efforts that benefit the larger community and their generosity,” Foundation CEO Zosia Eppensteiner said in a press release. “Every year, the highlight of our Annual Celebration is recognizing and celebrating people and organizations who go above and beyond in serving our community.”
The Foundation said Beth Millner Jewelry's fundraising program and ecofriendly efforts were among the reasons the company received the award.
Every year, Millner and her team select two nonprofits, generally in the arts and environmental fields, to design custom pendants for. Fifty dollars of each sale is to the respective organization. The most recent recipients were the Yellow Dog Watershed Preserve and the Upper Peninsula Land Conservancy
Millner was also named "Outstanding Young Alumni" of 2018 by the NMU Alumni Association. In 2020, she received the Michigan Woman Owned Small Business award by Michigan Celebrates Small Business.
While she’s happy spending her days at the studio, Millner hopes to do more teaching in the future.
For more information about Beth Millner Jewelry, visit the business’s Facebook or Instagram pages or website at www.bethmillner.com