Snuggled in the heart of Riverwest, Cocoon Room offers local artists and musicians an environment to showcase their talents. Quirkiness, affordability, and a passion for vintage style have made this entertainment and retail location one of the jewels in Milwaukee’s burgeoning art and music scene.
I first became aware of Cocoon Room after a friend invited me to a gallery opening there. The invitation boasted live music and spirits, so naturally I became mildly interested and decided to tag along. Albeit a depressing and blustery January night, I instantly warmed up at the sight of the curious little shop. Glittering mannequins clad in vintage garb and dripping with handmade jewelry posed in the window displays surrounded by a myriad of assorted trinkets and curios. There was a delicious glow emanating from the building; echoing with the thumps and giggles of the cheerful crowd inside.
The night quickly turned into quite a memorable occasion. Partygoers slithered amongst the vintage clothes chatting, sipping drinks, and enjoying the intimate live performances. The star of the night was local artist Emily Litjens’s WÅLL DRESSINGS instillation, which adorned the much of the room’s walls. The space certainly struck a chord with me that night so I arranged to sit down with one of its co-founders, Amanda Mills.
Mills, 28, opened Cocoon Room, located at 820 E. Locust Street, in March of 2013 with the help of her friends Rachel Buth and Sheila Teruty. The three obtained the space after former tenant, the Foxglove Gallery, closed its doors in 2012.
“We wanted to create a community space where there could be an all-encompassing atmosphere,” Mills said. “We wanted a place where anyone could hang out and meet other likeminded people.”
As soon as I entered the space for the second time, I felt an overwhelming sense of coziness. The lights overhead cast trickles of honeydew orange on the large open space. A massive wooden communal work table is the center piece of Cocoon Room. Large enough for a Viking feast, this table is used for art workshops, jewelry making and clothing design. It is a place where anyone from the community can come and create their own artistic expressions.
Sifting through the merchandise at Cocoon Room is like taking a journey through time. Unique treasures are tucked into every rack like shoulder-padded jackets, neon sweaters and elegant evening dresses. The men’s section is filled with denim jackets, wool coats and kaleidoscope-inspired Cosby sweaters. Scores of sunglasses line the glass display case alongside bow ties, necklaces, buttons and a chain mail inspired coin purse. Peppered amongst the clothes are bookshelves with a wide assortment of home goods like little owl statuettes, candles and wall décor. Cocoon Room also has a wide assortment of footwear from studded red leather loafers to black combat boots.
“Vintage should be at least 20 years old, and we also cater to homemade items,” Mills said. “Many of the Cocoon Room pieces are from local thrift shops, estate sales and from travels made by the three shopkeepers.”
Cocoon Room is a perfect example of why UW-Milwaukee students should think about exploring Riverwest. The East Side’s sister neighborhood is one of the most inclusive areas in Milwaukee. It’s one of the many reasons Mills wanted to start up shop there.
“I like the neighborhood; it is very much like a family,” Mills said. “Rent is cheap, and there are plenty of shops and bars.”
Mills hopes to open up Cocoon Room’s doors to UWM and offer students a place to share and experience art. Students are welcome to contact Cocoon Room if they are interested in displaying art instillations like paintings, drawings, photography, sculptures, live music and performance art. Multi-artist shows are also encouraged. Any interested artists are encouraged to contact Cocoon Room through Facebook, Tumblr, email (firstname.lastname@example.org), or you can just pop by whenever you have time!
Upcoming events include a new art instillation on Feb. 28 at 7 p.m. The event will showcase art by Chris Carini with musical performances by Saebra Laken, Rae Büth, Jen Cintrón and Roxie Beane.