Madison Shop Spotlight: Fern Westover by Cat Leonardson

Clay jewelry artist turns a passion project into an online business.
Fern Westover
Photo Courtesy of Cat Leonardson
Founder of Fern Westover Cat Leonardson launched their business in February and released a "Spooky Season," Halloween-inspired collection of handmade earrings.

Name any artistic medium, and it’s likely Cat Leonardson has tried it. Leonardson, who prefers gender-neutral pronouns, has dabbled in calligraphy, volunteered for a local magazine, written poetry and even considered selling handmade bullet journals. Yet it took a pandemic for Leonardson to realize it was possible to support themself and do something they love. Leonardson started selling handmade, polymer clay earrings. 

“I realized I needed to do something artistic in order to thrive,” says Leonardson, who founded the queer-owned business Fern Westover (@fern.westover on Instagram) in February. They joined Facebook groups for clay beginners, absorbing as much information, tips and techniques as possible. 

“I had a lot of ideas and I was just so creatively inspired more than I had ever been with any other medium, and I didn’t feel like I had to force it.” 

In addition to creating handmade, custom earrings, wall hangings, keychains, magnets, necklaces, pins and stickers, Leonardson introduced fall-themed items, including a Halloween-inspired collection. Leonardson gravitates toward the “funky” side, experimenting with big earrings, glitter, beads, flowers and the like. In contrast, the majority of their customers tend to buy smaller earrings. And though most people like gold, Leonardson prefers silver. 

“It’s been an interesting challenge to make something that I love but also that will sell,” Leonardson says.

Back when Leonardson was an undergraduate at the University of Wisconsin–Eau Claire, they worked overtime as a barista while experimenting with clay in their free time. Leonardson felt lost. “I had to stop, went down to part-time as barista and kind of reevaluated what I wanted to be doing,” they say. 

Upon starting Fern Westover, Leonardson recognized that they could tap into a lucrative market, especially at a time when job prospects were not promising. Leonardson originally wanted to open a brick-and-mortar store, but Fern Westover currently lives as an online shop. The support has been tremendous, Leonardson says. 

“There’s so much potential. I don’t have to wait to call myself a small business until I get some sort of physical store,” they say. 

Making clay earrings is a time-consuming process. Leonardson puts in many hours to create a single pair of earrings, and says it’s exciting to see how much improvement they’ve made. Leonardson is also meticulous, washing the pieces and using specific methods to avoid bubbles, lint or dust in the clay. They aim to ensure every detail — the rings, hoops and hooks — are long-lasting and good for sensitive ears. 

Inspired by the 1988 film Beetlejuice, Leonardson recently made a few pieces with black and white stripes accented with purple and lime green. They also have experience layering silk screens on top of the clay before painting and smoothing, as well as adding dried flowers and incorporating calligraphy. The options are endless, Leonardson says.

“I have so many ideas … so many more things in the works,” Leonardson says. “I feel like I’m just now starting to create stuff that is truly unique to me.”

Leonardson hopes to donate a portion of proceeds to charity organizations once they are in a stronger financial position. For now, Leonardson is determined to scale Fern Westover with the hope to inspire other LGBTQ artists along the way.

Gaby Vinick is an editorial intern for Madison Magazine.

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