I'm excited to talk about my friend Sam Patania. A third generation jeweler, Sam is quite knowledgeable in the art of manipulating metal. The Patania family has been recognized for decades by museums, celebrities, artists, etc. for their timeless creations. Starting with Frank Patania Sr., who came from Italy to New York City when he was ten. Before this he had apprenticed with a goldsmith in the traditional European manner of first doing simple tasks, proving your worthiness to learn the skills to become a master, then learning one new task at a time where through the repetition, discipline as well as the art is taught. When Frank Sr. arrived in NYC, it was during the height of the industrial revolution when mass production of jewelry became common place. It was thought to be of superior quality to be made this way, and with making pieces by the thousands+, manufacturers resorted to "safe" designs to appeal to a broad market, revamping past trends that proved their success already and re-doing them over and over. Skilled artisans making innovated works of art and custom pieces were losing work, some had to close up shop completely. So, when Frank Sr. landed a job at Goldsmith, Stern & Company, one of the largest jewelry manufacturers in New York at the time, one can assume his excitement. Little is known of his work made during this time, but looking at the company one can imagine he not only got to practice his skills learned in Italy, but picked up new ones as well. Eventually coming down with tuberculosis, the company sent him to Sante Fe, New Mexico to recover. Once he got there, he never went back, stating: "After my first sight of the West, I never wanted to return east again. And when I saw what the Indians were doing with silver and turquoise I knew I had found the medium in which I wanted to design." It was here that he opened up his "Thunderbird Shop" where he started making his European and Native American inspired designs, and started his family and legacy. During this time, there was a lot of tourism to the Southwest supporting the shop's work, eventually leading to the opening of another store in Tuscon, Arizona in 1937.
While in Italy, Frank Sr. not only learned about combining the art of expressing your creativity with technical expertise, but the benefits of building a family business. Frank Jr. and his sisters, Joan and Sylvia, grew up in the Thunderbird shop, their mother, Aurora Masocco, also from Italy, was the store manager, helped with the concept designing and was a general source of inspiration at Thunderbird with her beautiful sense of style. Aurora's sister, Mirandi, helped out the shop from the early days on as well as Frank Sr.'s brother. Together, they made a success of their business and Frank Sr. taught his family to make the work that they wanted, not to be tempted by what the trends say will sell but what you think would look beautiful - a lesson that has followed the family since. With this encouragement, Frank Jr. started making work inspired by, but quite different from his father.
In 1964 Frank Sr. past from cancer, but got to see his grandson, Sam, arrive in the world in 1961. While Frank Sr. was not around to teach him himself, Sam learned his lessons through Frank Jr. At the age of 10, Sam started his after school training in the art of handmade jewelry at the Thunderbird shop and would continue into his teens when, in true Patania fashion, he started his own path and took classes at Catalina High School where he experimented with new approaches to jewelry-making. Wanting more, he continued his studies at University of Arizona in 1988-89 under the guidance of Michael Croft. “Michael got me to design wildly different work than at the shop,” Sam said in the Tucson Museum of Arts exhibition catalog 'The Patanias: Legacy in Silver and Gold'.
With learning a breadth of new skills from college, Sam returned to the shop and has been making incredible work ever since. Always sticking to the Patania way of exceptional quality in each piece that is made merged with expressing your own artistic vision, Sam makes jewelry that speaks of his style. Just the fact that he started working in gold and colored stones was a change, not to mention huge production strides like casting, what was considered cheating in the days of Frank Sr. and Jr, certain pieces instead of fabricating each piece from sheet and wire. While Sam makes plenty "from scratch", he also wanted to have pieces that were more accessible to people of various financial circumstances, so for pieces that can be made by casting and end up look exactly the same as when hand fabricated, he casts and finishes by hand to assure the utmost quality. Not only does this provide an opportunity for more people to be able to afford Patania pieces, but allots more time for the pieces that do merit making from raw materials, like this guy:
Clearly, Sam's talent really shines with his one-of-a-kind pieces. Growing up with access to the Tuscon Gem and Mineral show (THE gem and mineral show) every year, he formed a deep rooted knowledge of stones and only selects the best of the best for his creations. This is evident in his work, that could be said to be more modern by today's standards than previous generations of Patania's - all making pieces that have been, and will continue to be, desirable works of art. Seriously, they've accumulated to many awards to list here between the three generations.
Being in charge of the Thunderbird, now titled Patania's Sterling Silver Originals, shop, Sam is always making new works of art. With a ceaseless desire to learn new things, from fashion and art jewelry, to all art, music, and everything and anything going on in the world, Sam seems to never be without new ideas and awareness of his work's place in the world. This has helped Sam not only in making important, simply beautiful, pieces but to be a levelheaded, kind person in business - evident in his love, and style, of teaching. Plus, he always knows how to find the best animal videos, which is the true test of character, of course. Inspired by everything from shapes, to materials, to thinking of the beautiful woman that will be wearing his work, to finding new ways to make the styles that his grandfather first started making decades ago, Sam takes this love of learning and applies it to carrying on the legacy of his family in new and exciting ways. As he desires to learn everything, and do everything in addition to metalsmithing, from photography, bookkeeping, marketing, buying and selling, woodworking, welding, sweeping, stone cutting, business planning, etc., he has mastered not just working with metal but running a business as well. He is definitely one I look up to not only as a jewelry maker and business owner, but as a person. The Patania heritage of making classic pieces and teaching the world about the processes it takes to get there is in good hands.