Model wearing Patania Jewelry’s Aurora Necklace and the Classic Georgia Cuff
Patania Jewelry: A Legacy Born in the Southwest
While photographing collection items at the Arizona Historical Society in Tucson, I encountered a necklace unlike any I had ever seen: A bold choker in silver and turquoise with massive, undulating pendants. Modernist in sensibility, Southwestern in spirit, and abstract in design… Or so I thought, until I realized that the undulating pendants were actually letters spelling out the word Tohono, of the Tohono O’odham tribe. I had nearly missed it. And I was enchanted.
One week later, some friends in marketing shared a brochure they’d created for a client. I glanced at the images, and there it was again: Jewelry, modernist in design, Southwestern in spirit, and thoroughly captivating. This time I noted the brand: Patania Jewelry.
Since the 1920s, after young Italian goldsmith, Frank Patania, immigrated to the United States, three generations of his family have made their mark on American jewelry. Today, Sam Patania, grandson to Frank Patania Senior and son to Frank Patania Junior, carries on the family’s legacy by recreating vintage designs, and adding bold new designs of his own. I caught up with him to learn more about Patania Jewelry.
WSW: Sam, could you explain more about why and how your grandfather, a classically-trained goldsmith, integrated his Italian craft heritage with Southwestern style?
I don’t think my grandfather could help integrating the two styles.
As a child in Italy, he had already apprenticed to a gold and platinum smith to learn the basics. After his family immigrated to America, he eventually found work at the largest jewelry manufacturer in New York City: Goldsmith, Stern and Company.
After several years there, he fell sick with tuberculosis. He was a valued designer, so his employer sent him to Santa Fe to recover. My grandfather fell in love with the city and all it meant: The land, the people, and the fashion.
But he was a businessman as well as an artist. He saw that silver was what was being sold out West. So, he began working with silver and turquoise, and he fell in love to the point that he very rarely ever used gold again.
He opened his first Patania Thunderbird boutique in Santa Fe in 1927, and a branch store in Tucson in 1937. He ran both stores until his death. So he lived in both cities, following the tourist seasons, summer in Santa Fe and winter in Tucson.
WSW: And how was his work different from Native American jewelry of the era?
His early apprenticeship experience is what made his work distinctive from local Native American designs. He used silver in ways that were new and innovative. This is what distinguishes a true artist: He did not copy; he innovated. For evidence of this I see his scrollwork, his overlay work, and his organic style.
WSW: Did he have any connection to Native American jewelers?
My grandfather hired unskilled workers who he trained to become silversmiths, 90% of whom were Native Americans. These men became like family to him, and they had a love for each other. He launched many careers for these men who went off on their own as artists, but never really got away from his designs.
My grandfather was influenced by, and was very influential to, Native American silver jewelry. Many now-famous silver jewelry artists worked for him early in their careers — artists such as Charlie Begay, Charles Loloma, Julian Lovato, Lewis Lamay, Jimmie Herald, Dan Enos, Waldo Mootzka, Alberto Contreras, and Carlos Diaz (who came to work for him already a silversmith.) The ones who are still alive still talk to me in glowing terms about my grandfather. He helped them not just become artists, but to buy homes.
WSW: By the late 1950s, your father, Frank Patania Jr., had already learned the trade and was making his own mark with his unique approach to design. He won awards and, in 1962, was included in an exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Crafts in New York City. What was his approach to design?
His approach to jewelry was more architectural. (Note the Tohono necklace, above.) His philosophy was that designs should not be cluttered, but simple with many open areas of plain metal. He insisted that pieces should be so well engineered that they don’t need repair.
WSW: And tell me about your work. What influences your creative designs?
My creativity is very much influenced by my grandfather’s and father’s work. I apprenticed to my dad for many years and took over the family business in 1990. His approach to jewelry became mine. Since I am a part of a family which spans three generations in jewelry, I value longevity in design and construction. I seek to continue that part of Patania tradition.
One way I differ from my predecessors is that I incorporate precious metals and stones, where my father’s philosophy was that the materials didn’t matter; design was all. My work was greatly influenced by the Tucson Gem show, which I grew up attending.
WSW: And like your predecessors, you’ve enjoyed significant success. Your work has been shown in museums as well, correct?
I participated in the Tucson Museum of Art’s 3 Generation Show in 1999, and was inducted into the Renwick Gallery in the Smithsonian American Art Museum, along with my father and grandfather, in the year 2000.
WSW: Impressive! Let’s bring it back to Southwestern style which has an enduring appeal regardless of trends. Patania originally became famous for experimenting with Southwestern styles and materials while innovating. How does that fit into your work today?
Southwestern style may rise and fall in other parts of the country, but in the Southwest it stays. It’s a powerful fashion which brings to mind the Wild West, and a freedom which doesn’t exist in crowded, busy cities.
To me, the idea of Western Style is simple, classic and elegant. Ralph Lauren is the archetypal Western fashion designer. Accompanying jewelry should be designed for the same qualities.
WSW: I had a look online and discovered that Patania Jewelry designs, whether bold and modernist, or Southwestern in spirit, are all prized and highly collectible pieces, even on the vintage market.
Well made, well designed jewelry like Patania is always in style and transcends fashion trends. Patania continues with the Southwestern tradition, but is not only Southwestern.
Patania is recognized as jewelry which can be worn to the Santa Fe Opera or the grocery store. Jewelry which is a pleasure to put on and is signature to the wearer. Jewelry which will be passed down to future generations. It is never out of place, anywhere or any time.
WSW: Thank you so much, Sam, for taking time to share the legacy of Patania Jewelry!
While this is a sponsored post, all opinions expressed in this post are based on my personal views. Readers interested in learning more about Patania Jewelry can search for the book, “The Patanias: A Legacy in Silver and Gold” by Joanne Stuhr, or visit Patania directly:
245 S. Plumer, Commerce Plaza #39 / Tucson, AZ 85719
Phone: 520-795-0086 / Email: [email protected]
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