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Shop Talk: Debbie Schmid Sladky and Denise Schmid Leahy of Atypic Gallery


Dec. 2018

Having worked with a family friend in the business, and given invaluable emotional and financial support by their parents, jewelry-loving sisters Debbie Schmid Sladky and Denise Schmid Leahy decided to take the plunge and open Atypic Gallery. The Fox Point shop debuted in 1986 with jewelry cases and stands made by their dad, and their mom working on staff. Since then, Atypic has become a go-to source for handmade jewelry from across the United States. Here, the siblings tell MKE Lifestyle about their individual styles, working with family and more.

How did Atypic Gallery come to be?

Denise: At that time, Debbie, you were a member of the Society of North American Goldsmiths, so they had annual conventions that we’d go to. I’d tag along because I loved the jewelry idea. We went to Toronto, and they had all the galleries focused on jewelry, and I remember one was called A Flick of the Wrist. It was all a theme of bracelets handmade out of all these different mediums. It was really unusual. We thought it was really cool that Toronto had all these wonderful jewelry galleries. They just did it for this convention that was in town. And that’s kind of where we got the idea.

Debbie: It was in the ’80s, so the craft and handcrafted, unusual, statement-piece jewelry was becoming more and more prevalent. We decided that we would go and do a jewelry store [that was] handcrafted jewelry, that wasn’t gold and diamonds, because we felt like we were a little bit young to be pushing, “Come and buy your engagement set from us!” [It] was innovative at that time.

How did you choose the name “Atypic Gallery”?

Debbie: That was tough, because for months and months we were like, “Yeah, what do we want to call this place?” At that time, there was “apolitical” and “asymmetrical” and everything was “A,” so we were walking around with another friend of ours and just came up with “atypical.” Atypic. Non-typical.

Denise: And [when] most people think of an art gallery, you think of more paintings and sculptures, so it’s not typical to find more jewelry or wearable pieces.

What’s it like working with your sister?

Debbie: For the most part, it’s very nice.

Denise: I’m more visual, so [I do] the displays. I don’t do mechanical stuff. Debbie does all of that — all the tools and that kind of thing. But we have a lot of the same values, [so] it’s a really nice relationship.

Describe your individual styles.

Denise: I’ve always liked more clean and contemporary, but I’ve come around to liking some of the things Debbie likes. Like Julie Shaw, for instance, who’s very detailed — little tiny things and little accents. I never really liked that as well in the beginning, but we got it in because Debbie really [likes] it and now I’ve come around to it too.

Debbie: I can appreciate it, but I would not really wear anything that would be high-polish silver. I like oxidized, much more earthy pieces and colors. ... Probably because I’m a redhead.

Denise: It’s nice to have a diversity of our tastes and what we have here, because customers love that. The selection we have is really amazing. You don’t really see that in a lot of places.

Visit Atypic Gallery: Audubon Court, 333 W. Brown Deer Road, (414) 351-0333,


This story ran in the Dec. 2018 issue of: