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  by Sheila Pamfiloff



  Jack Nutting as a young man

Jack Nutting was a cerebral man, quiet and shy around people, but in the world of his art he was dynamic and engaging. Few of his enterprises were immune from his artistry, where he brought a personal stamp to all facets of his life, from decorating and remodeling his home, creating home furnishings and flower arranging to designing and tailoring his wardrobe, or tweaking a recipe to personal perfection. He was a modern-day renaissance man, where individuality and the pursuit of excellence were fundamental to his life.  
In his jewelry designs, he advocated "Less is moreequals classic, and therefore never out of style." It was the defining principle behind his work. Sharing the aesthetics of his contemporaries, such as Lobel, Pearson, Renk, Steig, and Cooke, Jack looked to simple elegance of form to define the adornment. His jewelry-making process was reasoned, meticulous, and thorough, facilitating his goal of elegant simplicity, yet he often introduced surprise components in the construction. In an interview with his daughter Nicole Nutting, she stated that she knew when her father had a design brewing. "He would be sitting, smoking a cigarette, with a thousand-yard stare on his face, working out all the design elements in his head. Then, he sketched a scaled drawing, a virtual blueprint for the object, and began his assiduous fabrication.'

Drawing of an Award of Merit Necklace
Gold with Garnet

 From the Contemporary Craftsmen of the Far West Exhibition at The Museum of Contemporary Crafts, New York City, c.1961


Baroque Pearl, Forged Sterling Wire, c. 1959

A fine example of flowing movement and negative space relationships


George Frederick (Jack) Nutting, Jr. was born in San Francisco on July 4, 1920 and passed away September 22, 1997.  He was the only son of George and Eva Mathews-Nutting. Jack's father owned an auto repair shop in Berkeley, and his mother was a caterer. The majority of his life was spent in the San Francisco Bay area, only leaving towards the end of his life to be near his daughter in San Diego.

Jack's childhood had some indelible challenges. His father abandoned the family when Jack was three years old, leaving his mother to raise him on her own. She supported them as a live-in housekeeper for a wealthy Berkeley family. Jack was expected to keep a low profile, he spent many quiet hours entertaining himself while his mother was working. These hours were passed in imaginative pursuits; building handmade toys, practicing piano, and reading. With his mother being the primary influence in his life, one can appreciate how his early experiences may have infused an erudite mind with a soft edge. And, how an inventive imagination and self reliance fostered a disciplined artist.

During World War II, at the age of twenty-two, Jack joined the United States Army, serving in Europe as an administrative non-combat soldier. Upon discharge, in 1945, he went to work as an interior decorator. Some time later, he gained new employment as an architectural draftsman for Kawneer, a structural aluminum firm in Berkeley. Eventually, neither of these occupations would  prove to satisfy his personality and personal career desires.

In 1946 he met and married Natane Nason from Manitoba, Canada, and on October 21, 1950 Nicole, his only child, was born. Unfortunately, the marriage lasted only a few years. Nicole believes marriage may have been difficult for her father, perhaps because he tended to be a solitary man.

Jack and Natane's wedding in 1946

The flowers were arranged by Jack




Wedding Ring
White Gold with Two Diamonds

Early design



Jack was a cultured, well-read man who attended the opera regularly. His early education was through the Berkeley California school district where he was a good student. His art skills were mostly self taught, never having attended a four year college full time. 

In the early-1950s, Jack became restless with his drafting occupation and began looking for something that offered a more personal creative expression. His exploration led him to the innovative challenges of modern jewelry design and fabrication, a relatively new field of jewelry arts and metal work at the time. It seemed to suit him well and he worked hard and excelled. In his scrap book, where he kept records of biographical material, there are some references made to limited study with Leroy King at California College of Arts and Crafts, and some mention of adult education classes.

The quality of his work allowed him to join the Metal Arts Guild of San Francisco, where he honed his jewelry-crafting skills, and he became well known in the San Francisco Metal Arts community as he began achieving success. Former members, Richard Gompf, president from 1961-62, and Jean Deam remember him as being a very talented hardworking man, but quiet and private. Richard said, "In the early days of the Association, in order to become a member, you had to be sponsored by one of the members; Jack knew my work and sponsored me. He was always working hard. You had to, you know, in order to make a living."  When asked if she remembered Jack, Jean said, "But, yes I do
I'm 93 you knowhe was a very quiet man." One is left with an impression that in his early years he was a man absorbed in his work and earnest in his craft.

Picture from the Design Gallery Catalogue, c. 1957
 Section c. has wedding sets by Nutting.
The first ring on the left is the convertible ring mentioned later in this article, 

Personal biographical material that mentions California College of Arts and Crafts and displays of recent works




Photograph of the Jack Nutting Jeweler shop at 2049 Union Street, San Francisco
Displays his JN mark


Jack's reputation grew with participation in local invitational exhibitions sponsored by the Metal Arts Guild and other, now legendary, local craft shows. In the October 1956 edition of Craft Horizons, he was one of the artists selected to be included in a special edition featuring California craftsmen, acknowledging his reputation as a respected jewelry artist in his community. During this same timeframe, he exhibited in pivotal Bay Area exhibitions, such as the San Francisco Arts Festival, sponsored by the San Francisco Arts Council, founded by Peter Macchiarini, where he won a purchase award.  He then gained some national recognition in exhibitions sponsored by the American Craftsmen's Council and Georg Jensen Studio in New York, exhibiting in the company of Margaret De Patta, Peter Macchiarini, Merry Renk, Vera Allison, Caroline Rosene, Bob Winston, Frank Patania, and Stanley Lechtzin, just to name a few of his especially talented contemporaries.
Photograph of the San Francisco Arts Commission Purchase Award necklace, Annual Arts Festival, c.1957


With his successes, in 1961, he decided to open a shop on Union Street, an upscale shopping district in San Francisco, surrounded by the affluent neighborhoods of Pacific Heights and Sea Cliff. His clientele were doctors, lawyers, and business people, with occasional celebrity patrons, including Lena Horne, Natalie Wood and Robert Wagner, and Michael Learned, accompanied by her pet ocelot, who terrorized the shop. Sourdough Jack Mabee, founder of the Alaska Sourdough Starter and cookbook author, came into the shop and wanted a custom ring made from two heart-shaped 20-carat dark amethyst stones set in gold. Although, Jack wasn't pleased with the resulting garish display, as he seldom deviated from his simple design integrity, Mr. Mabee loved the spectacular ring on his oversized fingers.
Jack was a productive artist, with a strong work ethic, producing his jewelry for over four decades, with his highest production levels during his shop years, 1961-1980. Although it is difficult to assess the quantity of jewelry that Jack produced during his life-time, it is fair to say that he produced well enough to support himself comfortably. The shop had a large inventory with numerous display counters, wall displays, and the window display filled with Jack's jewelry. The jewelry was sold from the displays, which could also be used as a starting point for customized pieces. Designs could also be selected from a sketchbook filled with meticulous drawings, a work of art in its own right. This book, sadly, disappeared in his later years.

 Jack in his shop in the1970s


Jack exercised a degree of shyness when signing his work and a large portion was never marked.  Because of this, much of his art will be lost to us for lack of attribution. However, for future reference, when pieces are signed, we have found three marks: JN, a conjoined JN, and a J through the N, all sans serif.

Mark with separation between letters

Jewelry mark with separation between letters

Mark with conjoined letters

Jack closed his shop in 1980, when rents in San Francisco soared and the price of gold made it cost prohibitive to maintain a storefront. He relocated to Marin County, California, across the Golden Gate Bridge, and created a studio in his home. He became active in the Marin Artist Association and explored new ways to bring his art to the public through boutique-style stores, exhibiting in local galleries, and participating in large invitational exhibitions. Love, A National Invitational Exhibition of Wedding Rings and Bands in Los Gatos, California, included works by Mary Hu, the Radakoviches, and other modern jewelry icons.

Drawing of the 1984
award- winning necklace
 Marin Society of Artists



Drawing of the 1985 award-winning bracelet,  Marin Society of Artists

Award-winning bracelet from 1985, Marin Society of Artists

Sterling and Amethysts


Earrings, 14k Gold and Pearl; 14k Gold and Tanzanite
Page from Merlin's Collection sales catalogue, c. 1980s

Click here for A Classic Man in a Modern Idiom, Part II


Article by Sheila Pamfiloff

Photographs by Sheila Pamfiloff

Web Design by Marbeth Schon

Your comments are invited. 




copyright MODERN SILVER magazine, 2013