By Lynette Carrington
Three generations of Patania men have created jewelry for more than 70 years, carrying on a legacy that has propelled Patania Jewelry to the Smithsonian Museum of American Art.
Known for excellence in craftsmanship and creativity in design, Patania Jewelry will showcase its work at Laura Tanzer Atelier’s Artisan Showcase on Thursday, July 19.
“I will be there to meet people and show them what we’re doing with the Patania Collection,” says owner Sam Patania, whose grandfather, Frank Patania Sr., founded the company in 1927.
“There is a lot of new jewelry and this is work most people haven’t seen. This will be a real surprise to my established clients, and I hope it’s a joy to new people who I will be meeting for the first time at this event.”
Tucsonans are not the only Patania Jewelry clients.
“I wouldn’t be in business if my client base was just in Tucson,” Patania says. “We have clients in Texas, New York, the West Coast and all throughout the Midwest.”
Located at 1830 E. Broadway and in the Arizona Inn Gift Shop and Medicine Man Gallery, Patania Jewelry originated in Santa Fe, New Mexico at The Plaza. In 1938, Frank Sr. discovered Tucson while looking for a winter home for his business.
“Santa Fe was a small market, just like Tucson,” Patania says. “Back then, the center of life was downtown, and everyone came downtown to work and to play, but it’s different today.”
Frank Sr. taught Frank Jr. the art of jewelry making, and then he passed it on to his son.
“My first work in the shop, back when it was called the Thunderbird Shop, was when I was in high school and my dad had my sister and I as students,” Patania recalls. “We earned high school credit for studying jewelry with our dad.”
Patania is now working with his son, Marco Patania. “The business is changing so much lately, it’s hard to figure out what education best suits the future,” says Patania of his son who works in the studio. “He went to Haystack Mountain School of Crafts in Maine and has done some fantastic work up there.”
There are three distinctive collections at Patania Jewelry. The Patania Collection, which has earrings, bracelets, necklaces and rings. The Couture Collection features one-of-a-kind pieces, while the Vintage Collection incorporates older pieces that were created by Frank Sr. and Frank Jr.
“I get those in every once in a while, and I never know when something is going to show up,” Patania says. “Those pieces are generally consigned to me by the family of the original purchaser.”
Although the earlier designs from Patania Jewelry had a bit more of a traditional Native American flavor, Patania’s work is mostly found in the Couture Collection.
“I am using a lot of colored stones,” Patania explains. “That’s because I grew up around the Tucson Gem and Mineral Show. I’ve been going to the show for 40 years and I love colored stones. But I still love turquoise. Turquoise has been a family passion since my grandfather first came out here from New Mexico.”
In 2000, four pieces of jewelry created by the Patania family were added to the Smithsonian’s permanent collection.
“The four pieces represent three generations,” the jeweler explains. “There is one piece of my grandfather’s, two of my dad’s and one of mine. It’s amazing and it’s wonderful to have that kind of recognition.”