Twin Ports jeweler launches business while attending college
Making jewelry with rocks from the Northland “quiets my mind in a way that other things don’t,” said Ruby McCormick.
DULUTH — Ruby McCormick’s seat nearly touches the floor in her studio. She props her feet on the legs of the chair, her red and white striped socks resting on plastic.
McCormick curls in, pliers in hand, and hunches over small scraps of metal.
It’s as if she’s contracting her body, her energy, to focus solely on her tiny medium.
McCormick handcrafts jewelry “made to be worn outside” for her Duluth-based, queer-owned business, Little Leaf Goods .
Her works feature shapes and materials from nature: snakes with hammered patterns, wishbones, amethyst-encased danglers and drilled mookaite drops.
Making jewelry with rocks from the Northland “quiets my mind in a way that other things don’t,” she said.
McCormick grew up in St. Paul before moving up north. She launched Little Leaf Goods as a University of Minnesota Duluth student, propelled forward when she lost her job due to COVID-19.
For McCormick, who grew up watching her mother run her own business, the dream was always to work with her hands and create something of her own. She taught herself how to make jewelry, and after a couple of her online posts led to sales, McCormick took it further.
Sara Clifton employs McCormick, and carries her jewelry, at North & Shore, formerly Makers Mercantile.
Putting yourself out there as an artist can be intimidating, Clifton said, and it has been a joy to encourage and support McCormick as a maker and small business owner.
Clifton first noticed McCormick was involved in the online artist community through Instagram — and she found she was drawn to McCormick’s “simple and natural style.”
Clifton has seen her work evolve over the past year, as well as expand its reach at local art shows. And while she runs a business herself, Clifton’s quick to say she’s not a mentor to McCormick, only a supporter — and a customer, too.
“I own some of her earrings and they are amazingly lightweight,” Clifton said.
McCormick is drawn to making earrings because no two are going to be the same; and they’re wearable art with a mysterious future. “It’s cool my earrings will end up having their own stories, and that I don’t know what life they’ll live,” she said.
She keeps jewelry for herself sometimes — for quality control — and because she can.
And, she puts her values front and center.
Honoring her identity is paramount, so she includes hers in her work descriptions. “I find a lot of power in being a queer woman,” McCormick said. “I really feel strongly about representing myself as a queer-owned business because that is who I am.”
Waste reduction and sustainability are also key. So, she uses eco-friendly mailers, and, instead of plastic jewelry cards, she opts for plantable seed cards, which she hand-cuts and stamps with her logo and directions to tear it up, add soil and water and watch for wild flowers.
“Even if you throw them in the trash, I at least know they’ll biodegrade,” she said.
Sitting in her studio, McCormick hammers patterns into tiny, squiggly, soon-to-be snake designs. She works most often in the middle of the day, to not disturb the neighbors.
The desk — from her partner’s family — happens to fit perfectly in the inset space in her Hillside neighborhood studio. Her one window overlooks a community garden, for which she is thankful.
Dried flowers from her grandfather’s funeral hang on the wall. A succulent rests in a small yellow pot adorned with a painted bee. “A friend got it for me a few days ago, that’s why the plant’s not dead yet,” she said.
Blank Post-its await McCormick’s markings on her desk wall. She has a collection of journals leaning against her window — bound and spiral in turquoise, cream, red and yellow — but she says writing in them feels too permanent.
A mirror hangs eye-level at her workspace, so she can check the length and look of her creations.
Nearby is a black and white shot of artist Georgia O'Keeffe — “I like having her here” — and prints by Duluth illustrators Tin Cup Design and Clare Sahara.
In the latter, water and trees surround a camper with a brown pony nestled under a stocking cap, as she tends to a pot over a pile of sticks. It reminds McCormick of a trip to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, and the one-match fire contest she won.
Near the edge of her desk, twin pieces of pine bear burn marks on the ends.
Burning pine centers her and eases her into the work, she said.
A tiny handwritten “Love you!” is taped above a torn-out piece of packaging that reads, “Never forget how wildly capable you are.”
Tiny bins containing a rainbow of colored gems are stacked on each other with labels "aventurine," "howlite" and "carnelian."
A tiny card reveals the stones’ properties:
"Red jasper: earth"
"Lava stone: stability"
"Tiger’s eye: luck"
Gems are a great tool, said McCormick said it feels natural to incorporate them in her earrings.
They break sometimes when she drills holes into them, a frustrating sideline, but also: “It’s kind of beautiful,” she said. “Those ones just don't want to be a part of this, and that’s OK.”
McCormick lends this thoughtfulness to the naming of her business and its imagery. Little Leaf Goods’ logo is of an encircled oak leaf, a callback to the tree her parents planted in the front yard when she was born.
They’re also sturdy trees with longevity, McCormick said. “I’d like to think my business would be around for a long time and grow into this big, solid thing.”
Where to find Little Leaf Goods
- Dovetail Cafe, Duluth
- North & Shore, Duluth
- Adeline, Inc., Duluth
- I Like You boutique, Minneapolis