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Alice in Dairyland tiara shines with Wisconsin heritage
Kaitlyn Riley
Kaitlyn Riley, 2019 Alice in Dairyland

When we think of history, we often think of vintage black and white images or dusty volumes of books that share the stories of those who came before us. As unique as our state’s heritage, the Alice in Dairyland tiara gives vibrant color to Wisconsin’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. 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 freshwater pearl, and the center was a 21k 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 tiara was lost nearly six years later. Karin Burg from the Corner Studio in Sheboygan Falls recreated the piece, but Burg added her own touch. Instead of the freshwater pearl, she used diamonds to encircle the center scallop. By 1999, Burg modernized the tiara to the design I am proud to wear today. She spent weeks on the project making each piece by hand. 

As some people may have noticed, Alice 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 brooch 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 brooch, 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 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 they too find a love for Wisconsin’s heritage and history of agriculture. Join me for the Alice in Dairyland Finals in Green County May 9 to 11!

—  Kaitlyn Riley is the 71st Alice in Dairyland, Wisconsin’s agriculture ambassador who works with media professionals to educate consumers about the importance of agriculture to Wisconsin’s economy and way of life.