Misty Nagan comes from a long line of women good with a hammer.
Her grandmother in Arizona, her mother in Appleton and now Nagan in De Pere. She’s a third-generation artist who has mastered the craft of flattening, buffing and bending vintage silverware into original jewelry. Fork tines become elephant and giraffe pendants, and spoon handles show off ornate patterns as rings and bracelets.
In two short years, Nagan’s SilverWear by Misty line has grown so popular at the Farmers Market on Broadway, local retail outlets, her Etsy online store and area art fairs that the part-time medical technologist and mother of two finds herself hammering away in her basement studio more than she ever dreamed.
“If I’m not at a sporting event, carpooling or working, I’m down here,” she says.
You will probably hear her before you turn the corner to see her well-organized studio, which comes with a warning not to step too far unless you’re wearing shoes or willing to slip on a pair of guest flip-flops kept by the door. Tiny metal shards. They’re lurking everywhere on the floor.
Taking a hammer to flatten a spoon or fork on an anvil — the first step of the design process — isn’t exactly quiet work. The whir of a buffer, large sanding wheel and a specially installed exhaust system add to the decibel level. Nagan is quick to offer a guest a set of headphones. Her son, however, was oblivious to the racket for the longest time.
“He said, ‘That’s what you do downstairs at night?’ I was like, ‘What do you think I was doing after I made dinner?’” she said, laughing. “… Living in their own world.”
Outside her own household, her jewelry is instantly recognizable to a customer base that has been known to circle her booth at the farmers market a half-hour before opening in hopes of drawing a bead on new rings she might have. Her rings — creatively bent handles and tines — are her most popular sellers. College students love them, Nagan said.
Never mind the labor-intensive process of making one, just sizing one on site draws a crowd. She jokes that people know her by the bright orange rubber mallet she uses.
“I think that’s people’s favorite. At the farmers market on Wednesdays, I have a circle around me watching me size. I kind of feel like I’m a show, because people stand around and watch me size a ring on the mandrel.”
She learned to use specialty tools like a mandrel, shears and drill from her mother, Darlene Nagan. The two started out together in Appleton, after Misty’s grandmother, who has been making jewelry for 14 years in Arizona, passed down the art to her daughter. Misty’s mom was so busy out of the gate she recruited Misty to help her keep up. With their original SilverWear now a full-time venture for Darlene, Misty has since branched out on her own with SilverWear by Misty.