Every now and then, someone newly enchanted with the impressive jewelry of Frank Patania Sr. assumes that Frank was Native American. It’s an easy conclusion. After all, Frank Patania is best known for his acclaimed modernist jewelry of silver, turquoise and sometimes coral. His bold creations are most often offered alongside those of Native American artists. Frank Patania Sr, though, was not Native American, but Native American jewelry certainly influenced his life’s path from the 1920’s all the way until his death in 1964.
Born in Italy in 1899, Patania’s calling as a jeweler was determined from an early age. When he was only 6, he started apprenticing for an Italian goldsmith. By the age of 10, Patania had moved with his family to New York City. Eventually, nineteen year old Frank landed a job as a designer with the city’s largest jewelry factory, Goldsmith, Stern & Co. It was here that Patania honed his craft as a goldsmith until tuberculosis struck. An ailment that at first seemed to be misfortune actually changed the course of Frank Patania Sr.’s life. In 1924, Patania moved west to the high (and dry) desert of Santa Fe seeking healing from his serious illness.
In Santa Fe, Patania gained even more than a return to health. Thrilled and inspired by the silver and turquoise Native American jewelry that surrounded him, Patania began to experiment with a new medium and fresh techniques. Just three years after his move to Santa Fe, Patania opened the Thunderbird Shop right next to the Atchison Topeka and Santa Fe Railway ticket office. Location! Location! Location!
Jewelry that left the Thunderbird Shop quickly became known for its innovative style and expert craftsmanship. Patania employed talented Native artists like Julian Lovato and Lewis Lomay. Very quickly the amalgamation of Native American and Italian design, technique and materials sparked magic! Patania’s Italian wife, Aurora Masocco, managed the shop, including a mail order business, and even participated in some of the design work. Patania’s shop delighted customers like Mabel Dodge Luhan and Georgia O’Keefe. Ten years later, Patania’s success led him to open a second Tucson shop.
Through his lifelong experience as an artist, Patania was uncompromising in his commitment to using the finest materials - he cut his teeth on gold and later moved to exceptional natural turquoise. Patania also imported exquisite natural Mediterranean coral for use in the Thunderbird Shop’s jewelry.
This marvelous modernist bracelet is a wonderful example of Frank Patania Sr. at his best. Seven segments of very heavy silver are beautifully arched, graduated in size and set with truly amazing natural Persian turquoise, also graduated in size. The dome of each turquoise stone is replicated with silver beads that graduate in size as well.