donna fischer | the artist next door | april 2016
Misty Nagan did not expect to be in the art jewelry business, especially since wearing it isn't a priority for her. But looking at the shelves of her basement workshop loaded with boxes of old silver spoons and forks, it's easy to see that her creative drive has taken over, resulting in a burgeoning factory of fanciful and elegant rings, bracelets and earrings. Silver forks get flattened and bent into a form resembling an elephant. Spoon handles get hammered and wrapped into a somewhat chunky, somewhat graceful ring. Small silver lobes hang in pairs from a rack, almost every one featuring different flourishes. If Nagan didn't choose the jewelry business, it surely chose her.
Crafting jewelry out of old silverware is not a 2016 invention. I've seen them at flea markets and farmers markets for many years now and never even bought one piece. Nagan's work, however, demands a closer look. For her, it's an opportunity to instill her style sensibilities into highly wearable art. “I've heard people say, 'It's not your grandmother's silverware jewelry,'” says Nagan. “I try to make it a little more up-to-date, fashion-wise.”
Nagan has been selling her jewelry formerly known as cutlery for about two years now. “If you would have asked me three years ago if I would be doing this, I would have said no. I'm not a big jewelry person to begin with, but I've always been into art. I love to be creative.” Lending a hand to her mother's own silverware-into-jewelry hobby triggered new ideas in Nagan's mind and it wasn't long before she had to make her own pieces. Friends and family liked what they saw and urged her to craft more to the point where it became less of a hobby and more of a small business. “It was the demand. People were liking it and they were excited about it. This definitely not where I expected to be. I was expecting to be about the same as last year. And this year everything has just doubled. I'm in ten stores so that's kind of exciting.”
Generally, with a new craft comes some need for training, and Nagan found all she needed close to home. “I have taken some jewelry classes at NWTC just to do some of the soldering and learn some of the techniques. It definitely helped.” One of her classes was taught by Michelle Zjala Winter, co-owner of The Gift Itself. “She's an amazing metalsmith.”
Nagan found her booth to be a hub of activity at Arti Gras. “It was pretty much non-stop. I had quite a few returning customers and people who brought me silverware.” One feature of Nagan's business, SilverWear by Misty, is that folks can come to her with their heirloom silver pieces and in return get keepsakes they can wear or share with others. It's a growing trend that captures the sentiments attached to what might otherwise be an unused keepsake. “Usually there are tears involved with the silverware pieces that have come from grandmothers,” Nagan explains. “I did have a lady who had the family silverware made into rings and gave them out at her wedding to extended family. She said they absolutely loved them.”
While the growing demand for her jewelry at times takes a toll on her hands and wrists, the business side of things isn't exactly easy either. “I have no business background whatsoever, so that has been tricky, but I feel like it's coming into its own.”
When asked about the time it takes to create a silver ring or bracelet, Nagan smiles and points out that it's the most commonly asked question, and the hardest to answer. “We've gotten to the point where I tend to batch things so it's hard to say how much time it takes. I have one helper who flattens them and then they get buffed. After that, we mark them for size. Then we cut them and then sand them. I do all the bending. Last night it took me about an hour to bend about 25 of them. And then we clean them for an hour in a tumbler and that just gives them the shine.”
Care for a ring made from a silver spoon requires little more than a buff from a polishing cloth, though my new ring has yet to show signs of tarnish. “Or if you see me at a show I'm happy to polish them for you,” Nagan offers, cheerfully.
With shows coming up at Green Bay's Heritage Hill, Minnesota, Milwaukee, Chicago and Door County, Nagan is about to become one very busy artist.
“We've been working on our display to make it more trendy, and make it look like a little store to draw people in. I'm a little overwhelmed at this point.” This wife and mother of two plans to leave a part-time job at a hospital soon so she can spend more time in her basement, hammering, cutting and crafting.
Nagan finds the designing and crafting process in her jewelry business to be highly rewarding. “It's exciting to me because sometimes I might go off other jewelry that might inspire me, but when I'm making something and go 'I'm going to do this' and it's solely my idea, and it just came out of nowhere and then it turns out amazing! That's really exciting.”
Find SilverWear by Misty jewelry at area shops including the Green Bay Botanical Garden, Twist Boutique and Beernsten's Candies, just to name a few, or go to Facebook.com/HeirloomSilverWear or silverwearbymisty.etsy.com.
Donna Fischer is an avid fan of music, film and art. When she's not writing on these subjects you'll find her gardening or snowshoeing around Green Bay.