Growing Golden Along the River’s Edge: Jewlery designer focuses on giving back culturally

Emilie Cardinaux with hand made items in her shop, The Golden Cleat in Clayton.

By: Holly Boname

The St. Lawrence River has made its impact in many people’s lives past and present. From the classic Thousand Islands Dressing that originated along the river, to its alluring islands and nautical lifestyles, it draws in visitors and inspires residents to embrace a way of life that ebbs and flows with the changing of four seasons.  

     For artist Emilie Cardinaux, the Thousand Islands have changed her life and is now where she calls home, conducts business and is thriving.

    The Golden Cleat is becoming a name that many recognize along the shores of the River. The jewelry shop, located in downtown Clayton, showcases handmade pillows with vintage navigation maps of the Seaway, handcrafted jewelry with cleats, paddles, sextant and gem stones. Opening the new downtown location this year, Ms. Cardinaux has been embraced by the community and visitors to the river community, but her journey as an artist and to this new location is what makes her new venture an even greater success.

From the Fire

    The Golden Cleat was founded in 2014 when Ms. Cardinaux filed for the trademark for the brand which didn’t launch until 2015. She had been designing jewelry under her name in Brooklyn, where she was living at the time, and in the summer of 2015 the company emerged into the Golden Cleat for recognition of her signature piece, a small golden dock cleat.

    “I left New York in 2013, but was back and forth between the city and the Thousand Islands,” she said. “My work was in a shop next to The Guzzle; there were a few little shops that people don’t really remember about that got destroyed in the fire. It was a little clothing store and I convinced my friend to let me sell my handmade gem stone jewelry on consignment in exchange for me working there one day a week.”

    But then the well-known historical ice cream shop The Guzzle, located on Wellesley Island in Thousand Islands Park, burned to the ground leaving Ms. Cardinaux with her handmade pieces in ruin and her labors lost.

    “I was thinking ‘I can’t just order more… there was so much labor that went into each piece, they were all individual pieces and that’s sort of how I thought maybe I should focus more on pieces that involved the process of casting, because they are much easier to replicate and produce on a larger scale,” she said. “I just lost everything. So out of the ashes of that fire, really was how The Golden Cleat came to be. I decided to do more cast pieces and decided to create a collection based on an expansion of the cleat, and then I added the paddle and other nautical designs, so it was more of a collection.”

    Still in development of the brand and her vision for the jewelry line, she was faced with a decision as to what was next.

    Ms. Cardinaux had also been writing music for a children’s television show “Bubble Guppies.” The show had won an Emmy while she was working on the production, but was soon coming to a close. She was faced with a decision whether to stay in New York City or move to Los Angeles.

    “I was just feeling like I needed a break from the city and I wanted to try something else. So I thought, it would be a lot easier to do that while I was living somewhere that was more affordable to live and to try and plunge into this routine while I was still in New York,” she recalled. “I wouldn’t have had the time, I would have had to been working, working, working, just to keep the hamster wheel going- just to pay the regular bills. Here I was able to take some breathing room, live off my savings and essentially build the brand from scratch. And Clayton was obviously the better choice.”

     In 2015, something amazing happened for Ms. Cardinaux which launched her brand to another level of business. The Golden Cleat was juried into one of the largest tradeshows on the east coast, NY Now, in New York City. The tradeshow boasts some of the largest orders for new designers products.                          

     “When we juried into that show, it was a February show, and we got orders for over 50 galleries,” she said. “And I’m saying we, but at that point it was just me.  So after the show,  I was finally able to hire someone to help with production and those wholesale orders, which are now carried by over 100 different galleries, mostly on the east coast, but also some in Seattle and places where boating is also a way of life. So that’s why we didn’t have a storefront, because it was two years before we could. It just serendipitously became available, right at the moment in our business when I thought we could actually handle this and it made sense. It’s done beautifully.”

    Business models normally do not start at the wholesale level, but it is what has driven Ms. Cardinaux’s business to where it is today. Locally, she began to consign her jewelry to local shops like Freighters in Clayton, where her works became very popular and she had more local visibility. Production of her line increased, she began shipping large orders from her apartment in Clayton, hired a staff member to assist with the incoming orders so she was able to sustain the local and wholesale orders, and now she has her own store, which she says is a “whole new animal.”

From the Flood

    In the spring, Ms. Cardinaux began moving into her location on Riverside Drive in Clayton.  But Mother Nature had other plans. The water levels on the St. Lawrence River began to rise and flooding began filling the basements of downtown businesses, Ms. Cardinaux’s included, with only four days before she opened her doors. Luckily, community residents notified Ms. Cardinaux, who was away at a tradeshow, and help was on the way.

    “I just put on Facebook that the basement was flooding and to please help! Some neighbors and friends came and took all my musical equipment out of the basement – a sound system, 12 guitars, my cello, my keyboard instruments – and I’m trying to explain from afar what everything is,” she said. “I didn’t know where to put it. I didn’t want to move it all into other storage, because then when it’s cold again I have to move it again.”

     Ms. Cardinaux began to think creatively.

    “We rented this gorgeous space for the retail space, it’s 20 by 60 feet, it’s huge,” she said. “And half of that, we really needed for the studio we make things in and our office just to run the wholesale part of the business. So the music equipment ended up getting set up in the store and it looks like a beautiful little stage there.”

    Now, her equipment is set up in the main part of The Golden Cleat, adding an alluring element of creativity to the space beyond the retail items.  As a singer-songwriter it was clear that this space would allow for a performance.

    “It sort of grew on me and I thought to myself, ‘It’s been a while since I’ve been disconnected with music’ and it was such a huge part of my life,” she said. 

Giving Back

    With her background in music, her equipment saved from the flood and the business at a peak during the summer tourism season in downtown Clayton, Ms. Cardinaux is focusing on giving back. She will be holding a series of performances at The Golden Cleat with all proceeds donated to the Antique Boat Museum’s for children’s educational programming.

    “I’ve always wanted to find a way to reconnect and to bring my musical colleagues from New York City; it’s a chance for them to experience this place and its beauty and a chance for me to share these relationships and this beautiful music with the people here,” she said.

    She contacted friend Sasha Dobson, who has performed in the NYC jazz scene and recently released an album in 2014 with Norah Jones, and Catherine Popper, “No Fools, No Fun”. She performed at The Golden Cleat on June 30.

    Also scheduled to perform on July 14 is internationally acclaimed bluesman Bill Sims, Jr. a Warner Bros. recording artist, and on August 11, acclaimed singer/songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Natalia Zukerman.

    When asked why she is working to give back to her community through art and performance, Ms. Cardinaux said, “It goes hand-in-hand. I am still just in awe of the support, the enthusiasm, of the people of the 1000 Islands; it’s my summer friends or if it’s the people I’ve gotten to know that live here year-round, or it’s even tourists that are just stopping by, I just receive so much enthusiasm from the local community that – yes – I have wholesale accounts, but the people from the Thousand Islands have just shown me so much enthusiasm and support, and because of that I have a career! I just pinch myself every day, because I get to wake up and do what I love.”

    For more information on the concert series and to purchase tickets visit

Bill Sims, Jr.
Born into and raised by a sharecropping family in rural Georgia, vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Bill Sims Jr. is an internationally respected master of the blues. He began playing piano at age four and by fourteen he was playing professionally in a rhythm and blues group. A Warner Bros. recording artist, Mr. Sims is also an accomplished musical director and has lent his talents to many theater and film productions in New York and the United States. His film credits include Lackawanna Blues, Miss Ruby’s House, American Gangster, and the recent Cadillac Records. He was also the subject of a critically acclaimed PBS documentary, An American Love Story, in 1999. He is a member of the Grammy-nominated Heritage Blues Orchestra. Mr. Sims currently lives in NYC where he mentors a new generation of blues and roots musicians.

Natalia Zukerman
Musician, painter and educator Natalia Zukerman grew up in New York City, studied art at Oberlin, started her mural business Off The Wall in San Francisco, began her songwriting career in Boston, and now resides, writes, plays, teaches and paints in Brooklyn, NY. Having released seven independent albums on Weasel Records and her own label Talisman Records, Zukerman has toured internationally as a solo performer since 2005. She has also accompanied and opened for some of acoustic music’s greats such as Janis Ian, Willy Porter, Susan Werner, Erin McKeown, Shawn Colvin, Ani DiFranco, Richard Thompson, Tom Paxton and many others. Alongside her touring career, Zukerman continues to paint private and public murals as well as illustrate children’s books, design and paint sets for plays in New York City and paint private portrait commissions. Natalia teaches private songwriting lessons and has taught at Sisters Song School, Red Rocks Womens Music Festival, Winnipeg Folk Festival, Interlochen Summer Music Program and other festivals and locations throughout the US and in Canada. In February, 2017, Natalia became a Cultural Diplomat for the US Department of State, playing concerts and conducting workshops with her group The Northern Lights throughout Africa.