Steph Davies, the owner of The Waxwing – a new local art gallery / handmade gifts boutique in Shorewood – says that when she moved from Chicago to Milwaukee three years ago, she didn't immediately find her niche.
"I arrived in Milwaukee at a weird time to be an artist. The Paper Boat Gallery had just closed and it seemed like there were few outlets for artists or if they did exist, they were hard to find for a newcomer," says Davies.
Davies curated an all-illustration show at BYO Studio (now called Studio Lounge) and found other freelance art jobs. Through her endeavors, she met more Milwaukee artists and started to feel more connected to the local artistic and business community.
"Annette French from Dragonfly has been a huge mentor when it came to opening up a place of my own," says Davies.
Plus, Milwaukee welcomed Sparrow Collective, 2224 S. Kinnickinnic Ave., and Foxglove Gallery, 826 E. Locust St., both of which were similar in vision to what Davies wanted to do.
Today, The Waxwing showcases the work of more than 80 local artists. When the shop opened on March 16, there were about 60 artists. The space is packed, but it's well-arranged so it's not overwhelming. There's a wide range of mediums from pottery to jewelry to woodworking to bath and body products. It's a great place to shop for gifts or special treats after a long day or week.
Local artists include Stephanie Bartz, Kelli Bush, Kathryn Behlong, Thomas Bowling, Matt Cipov, Kevin Cochran, Erin Faye, Sarah Hemm, Paula Heus and more. Candrima Soy Candles, Hills of Clay, Ink & Astor, Orchard Street Press, Little Ocean and Yen for Yarn are some of the local businesses in the space.
All of the work is on consignment. Artists receive 60 percent of the sale and Waxwing collects 40 percent. Davies says she is always looking for new artists.
"I'm looking for artists with voice," she says. "As long as the work is unique to the space and I can find a way to display it, I'm open."
One of the most challenging aspects of operating the gallery / boutique for Davies was learning to look beyond her personal tastes and find a mix of art that will appeal to all different types of people.
Davies, originally from Kansas City, is a scientific illustrator who graduated from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC). She says it was always her dream to open her own shop. Years ago, she toured and played music with her husband, who is currently in the Thriftones, and considered opening a coffeehouse/ music venue/ art gallery.
However, she and her husband decided to move to Milwaukee because his family lives in Waukesha. Davies says she would not be able to open a shop like The Waxwing in Chicago because there is a lot more competition.
"I often stood outside empty spaces on the East Side and even checked out a few, doing calculations in my head as to how I would be able to put it all together. The timing was never right I guess," says Davies.
Finally, she found exactly what she was looking for. When the owners of Hummingbird Art Boutique decided not to renew their lease, Davies offered to keep the business going with a new group of artists and a new name. She and her husband picked the name "Waxwing" because she says her husband is a "bit of a birder" and she likes to draw birds. Plus, the cedar waxwing is a common bird in the area.
"I also wanted to pick a name that wasn't too limiting so our business can grow over time," she says.
Aside from being a gallery and a boutique, The Waxwing is also Davies' office. She has numerous freelance projects from designing wedding invitations to CD covers that she works on in between tending to customers.
So far, Davies says she has felt a lot of support from Milwaukee artists, as well as the Shorewood community. More than 200 people showed up to the cozy space for the grand opening. Waxwing's next gallery event will showcase the photography of Annie Sweers on Friday, May 18 from 6 to 9 p.m. The Dumb Terminal Project will provide music.
According to Davies, The Waxwing in these early stages is just a starting point for achieving her goals. For one, she hopes to see it evolve into a community space where the public can attend workshops. Currently, any artist who has their work in the shop is invited to offer a workshop.
Although it took a little while for Davies to find her artistic momentum in Milwaukee, things now are clipping forward.
"There's so much potential here. It's such a great time to be a part of something like this now that locally-made is the hot new trend. Everything is blossoming," she says. "We hope to continue to flourish."
Molly Snyder started writing and publishing her work at the age 10, when her community newspaper printed her poem, "The Unicorn.” Since then, she's expanded beyond the subject of mythical creatures and written in many different mediums but, nearest and dearest to her heart, thousands of articles for OnMilwaukee.
Molly is a regular contributor to FOX6 News and numerous radio stations as well as the co-host of "Dandelions: A Podcast For Women.” She's received five Milwaukee Press Club Awards, served as the Pfister Narrator and is the Wisconsin State Fair’s Celebrity Cream Puff Eating Champion of 2019.