Jewelry maker Shauna Cardone speaks on the impact of a VCUarts graduate experience

By Eliott Grover

As a full-time middle school art teacher, business owner, graduate student and artistic contributor to National Geographic, Shauna Cardone knows how to let her passions lead. 

“I think it fills my cup to have so many activities going on,” Cardone said. “Whether it’s receiving an education, giving an education, and then also being active in my own practice, that trio is very important for me in terms of maintaining happiness.”

Cardone earned her first master’s degree from VCUarts in 2013. She studied metalsmithing as an undergrad at Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), where she developed essential skills for jewelry making. As she considered graduate programs, she was interested in finding a more experimental curriculum to propel her growth as an artist. She reached out to one of her RISD professors and asked for advice. 

Roo and Roo, “Thalia” 2022. Clay, gold-plated brass, resin. Photo provided by Shauna Cardone.

“She was the one who mentioned VCU as an option because they have this great Craft and Material Studies program where you are immersed with other kinds of artists,” Cardone said. “I thought that would be a great opportunity for me to explore other avenues beyond just metal.”

Cardone thrived under the interdisciplinary umbrella of the VCUarts Craft and Material Studies Department. “I was working with people in glass, furniture, wood, metals, ceramics and textiles,” she said. “It was a really unique opportunity to work directly with people who are in a different medium – to learn from them and learn from each other.”

At first, Cardone didn’t stray too far from her comfort zone. Her early work at VCUarts focused primarily on metals and jewelry. But learning alongside other artists and world-class professors gave her the confidence to explore different mediums and designs. “I started making headpieces and costume-like accessories,” Cardone said. “I was making epaulets and capes and collars and knuckle dusters and even nail accessories. I was kind of creating these power suits for my alter egos.”

For her thesis, Cardone made a Busby Berkeley-esque film that featured different versions of her wearing all of the pieces she had designed during her VCUarts career. “There were thousands of Shaunas prancing across the screen in these outfits,” she said. 

Susie Ganch, associate professor of metals at VCUarts said that she was “trilled” at Cardone’s success after graduating.

“While at VCU, [Cardone] was a talented, ambitious artist who had incredible style and vision,” said Ganch. “Her work was unlike any other student I’ve worked with. I’m not surprised that Roo & Roo is gaining such fabulous momentum.”

In addition to evolving as an artist, Cardone fell in love with teaching. “When I got to VCU I was an adjunct professor through their scholarship program,” she said. “That’s where I got the teaching bug. I found that I really liked working hands-on with students.” Cardone has followed this passion by teaching in her home state of Massachusetts, where she’s currently pursuing a second graduate degree in education. 

Process video of Cardone creating “Bubbles” out of clay, and gold-plated brass for Roo & Roo. The video has received over 650k views and 40k likes.

When not occupied with teaching or learning, Cardone pours her energy into Roo & Roo, the jewelry company she launched two years ago. At this point, she focuses exclusively on earrings which she makes using metals, resin and clay. 

Surprisingly, Cardone never intended to start a business. She lost her mother at the start of the pandemic, a painful time that was exacerbated by the fact that she couldn’t be with her family due to the lockdown. So she began experimenting with clay and designing earrings as an outlet for her grief. “I was making things for myself and really just healing through the process of creating,” she said. Although she wasn’t initially making jewelry for others, others took notice. As she wore her earrings in public, she was frequently stopped by people asking where she bought them. “That’s when I kind of thought maybe I should try to do this,” she said. 

Since starting Roo & Roo, Cardone has grown her business by capitalizing on a number of opportunities. She applied and was selected to sell her earrings at SoWa Boston, a weekend market for talented local artisans. Her storefront has drawn heavy foot traffic as patrons flock to its fun display and dazzling jewelry. “I think I have a pretty specific aesthetic,” Cardone said. “It’s bold, it’s colorful, it’s playful. It often involves shiny, glittery things.” 

A pair of earrings from Roo & Roo sold at the King Beyond King Tut exhibition in Boston. Clay, gold-plated brass and resin. Photo provided by Shauna Cardone.

Last summer, National Geographic rented the iconic SoWa Power Station as a venue for its immersive Beyond King Tut exhibit. The end of the exhibit featured a souk that resembled a marketplace in ancient Egypt. National Geographic encouraged artists from the local SoWa community to submit proposals for pieces they could design and sell in the souk. Cardone leapt at the opportunity. “I’ve always been really inspired by Egyptian jewelry,” she said. “That large scale, very dramatic aesthetic has always appealed to me.” 

For her proposal, Cardone designed clay earrings that mimicked hammered gold. “I wanted to create something that I felt like an Egyptian queen might have worn, but make it current and make it modern,” she said. “I designed two different styles of earrings that were large scale, but because they were made out of clay they were lightweight and comfortable.” Her proposal was accepted. By the time the exhibit concluded, her work sold out.

Since success begets success, Cardone has found new avenues to grow Roo & Roo. Last summer, the Fuller Craft Museum outside of Boston approached her about selling her earrings in their holiday sale this winter. She also recently became a brand ambassador for Michaels and is in the process of developing content for the national chain through her various social media channels. 

Cardone is humble when asked about what makes her jewelry unique, but she acknowledges that it reflects her bold and ebullient personality. “Just in the way I like to dress and adorn myself, I tend to be a bit more extravagant,” she said. “I like to have fun and I think accessories should be fun. I want to encourage people to live loudly and take risks in how they adorn themselves.”

Cardone credits her time at VCUarts with giving her the confidence to take creative risks. “When I was there, I was really pushed even further out of my comfort zone,” she said. “It was hard because I was working in a lot of mediums that I’ve never really dreamt of working in before, but all of the teachers there really pushed me to try new things and just go for it.” 

Lead Image: Roo and Roo, “Shards” 2021. Clay, gold-plated brass, mica powder, resin. Photo provided by Shauna Cardone.