In pursuit of a piece of jewellery and not knowing its maker's name, I found myself in a roundabout way in Mitch Nugent's tiny, low-ceilinged silversmith's workshop in Clerkenwell seven or eight years ago.
I entered through a secure steel door into a miniature world of Nugent's creations: contorted goblins, tiny scaly creatures, beautiful butterflies with wings extended, amulets, swords and glassy-eyed fish gasping under the heat of an Anglepoise lamp on a bench littered with silver grindings and sharp steel tools with wooden handles that demanded strength and precision to be worked. Nugent offered me his hand and greeted me softly. He was a small man, unkempt, with a little pixie face and glinting blue eyes.
Mitch Nugent was born in New York City in 1948. He was an only child and his mother died young. When his father died he became a wealthy young man and, having acquired a double degree in industrial design and sculpture at Carnegie Mellon, he set off on a world safari. On his return he booked into the University of Michigan and did an MA in anthropology.
In 1971 he moved to Britain and only returned to the United States once more to study wax carving with Nora Pearson; he had carved since the age of nine, and very fine wax carving became his chief and exceptional skill. He would start by making a fine wax model and from that take a rubber mould. A silver master model cast in this mould might then be refined in detail, and then a second mould taken from which either waxes or finished pieces in silver could be cast.
On his return to Britain, Nugent set up a workshop and began designing collections of jewellery inspired by a fascination with past civilisations as well as contemporary cultures. Over the years Nugent's creativity spanned commissions for films such as Labyrinth and Henry V and individual designs for the World Gold Council, Jim Henson, David Bowie and Linda Ronstadt.
His collections were sold through Bergdorf Goodman, Henry Bendel, Asprey, Paul Smith, Liberty and Harrods. Typical of his work is his silver christening ware for Asprey's, typical for its use of animals and tongue-in-cheek humorous details.
But through a series of financial and business mismanagements, Nugent never reaped the monetary reward for his endeavours. Only latterly were there signs of stability in his business. I would often arrive at work to find a deeply hurt and humble Mitch on my doorstep looking for the price of a bag of groceries, he and his cat having gone without for the weekend. But even though things could get tough with money-lenders baying and no food for tobacco, he would still talk of new commissions, and spend the rent money on more materials.
In the winter of 1991 Mitch Nugent took his harp and a bag of grass to a particularly remote part of Wales to 'get away' from city pressures. With no heating and little income his health declined. He was rescued from Wales after a bout of pneumonia but, whilst normal life was temporarily restored, his health had started a steady decline.
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