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Samuel (Sam) Frank Patania

Samuel (Sam) Frank Patania (1961 – ) Like his father and (eventually) his grandfather, Samuel (Sam) Frank Patania is protective and rightfully concerned about the heritage he carries as the 3rd generation of the Patania family to continue its jewelry making tradition.

Not long after his father, Frank Patania, Jr. issued his “History of the Patania and Thunderbird Shop” in 2009, son Sam followed up with his own consideration of it. In late 2010, “Patania Hallmarks” by Sam appeared. It begins by briefly recounting the family’s roots and history before addressing more important issues.

“I am a third generation jewelry maker in my family. My grandfather started in New York City in the 1910’s as a gold and platinum designer, moved out to Santa Fe, NM due to tuberculosis. He recovered there and loved the area so much he stayed and started his first shop on the Plaza diagonally across from the La Fonda hotel in 1927. He then opened a branch in Tucson in 1937. My dad grew up between Tucson and Santa Fe, and I grew up in Tucson.”

In Tucson, Sam worked around the family shop and, after coming home from school each day, began to learn about crafting jewelry and other objects. In 1969, at age 10, he began his apprenticeship at the Tucson Thunderbird Shop. For the next decade, his after-school training would be a major part of his daily routine.

He took jewelry making classes in high school before he began full time in the famous Thunderbird shop. In his mid-20’s, Sam enrolled at the University of Arizona considering a career in engineering. It didn’t take long for Sam to recognize how deeply he felt about his family’s roots in jewelry and his own aspirations to create objects and carry on the family legacy.

As Sam followed his instincts, he sought instruction and discovered styles and techniques he had not seen used in the family shop. In his 1977-78 school year, Sam enrolled in a jewelry-making course at Catalina High School where he met his future wife Monica Borquez.

In 1979, he became a full-time employee of the Thunderbird Shop and began attending University in 1988-89. It was here that he met jewelry instructor Michael Croft. “Michael got me to design wildly different work than at the shop,” says Sam. Croft introduced him to techniques of wax casting and the Japanese technique of mokume, a fusion-layered patterned laminate.

Sam has always had great respect for his heritage. It’s a heritage that began with his grandfather, Frank Patania Sr. who passed it on to his son, Frank, Jr. and to his grandson. Part that heritage included fearlessness in design and the ability to create and express one’s artistic vision unafraid of how it might fit into the conventions of the time.

Sam’s artistic style is a distinct departure from the Patania tradition of working primarily in silver and turquoise. Sam inspiration derives from the shape and color of gemstones and he selects only the highest quality stones for his work.

The success of Sam’s artistic vision and his ability to simultaneously extend the Patania legacy has been recognized by some of the world’s most famous museums and galleries. In 1999, the Tucson Museum of Art hosted a retrospective featuring the work all three Patania generations.

In 2000, the Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian Institute acquired three bracelets, one from each family member and displayed them in the gallery’s permanent collection.

Always in search of new challenges, Sam, who had run the Thunderbird Shop since 1990, moved the shop to its original Tucson location. The move proved successful for business even though Sam changed the store’s name to Patania’s Sterling Silver Originals.

The Thunderbird name didn’t die because Sam opened the Thunderbird Gallery and Museum, a section of the store that included works from the three generations of Patania silversmiths.

In the display was a silver and turquoise necklace Frank Sr. made for his wife and a bracelet he made for his first grandchild. Also on display were numerous paintings by Tucson artist Salvadore Corona with whom the Patanias were friends. Corona often sold his art via the store.

In 2004, Sam closed the retail shop to focus exclusively on jewelry making working with a few select galleries to represent his work. He finds new inspiration in emerging fashion and design trends and gives them form in metal and stone.

In his 2010 open letter, Sam amplifies on his father’s writing about the family’s hallmarking history:

“My grandfather started to hallmark his work initially [by engraving] his hallmark into the back of his pieces. He then had several stamps made over the years which he used to mark his personal work and which the craftsmen he employed in his studio used to mark their work. As my dad grew into the business he developed his own hallmark which he used on his personal work and kept using the “shop” hallmark for his craftsmen, one of which eventually was me.

“I have started to notice a willful disregard of my dad’s article and his history of Patania hallmarking by those…selling vintage or what they want to be vintage Patania jewelry. The market seems to think that if my grandfather made the item … it is worth more and misrepresent many pieces as his.

“To be sure, the hallmarking history is confusing but, both my dad and I are still alive to render opinions of what is made personally by Frank senior, Frank junior and Sam, and what is Thunderbird Shop jewelry.

“All … Thunderbird Shop jewelry was designed … and made under in one of our studios. They are Patania work just as Spratling pieces were not made by William Spratling but designed and made in his studio.

“Identifying who made which piece is often difficult … [b]ut the information is available and those buying it should take the time to research us if they are interested in collecting Patania work.

“I ask please, if you are interested in collecting my family’s work, do your research, read dad’s article and buy carefully.”

Sam is known to have said that his grandfather’s work lives on through his father and him. It is a passion handed down through the generations with Sam designing jewelry using the coral that Frank Sr. brought from Italy.

Jewelry making is Sam’s consuming passion. “My grandfather’s design is very much alive in what we do…,” says Sam.

He adds, “I have never run across anyone [else] who is demonstrably as passionate about their jewelry. I get excited about this stuff. The processes, learning it, exploring it, getting bummed when it doesn’t work; I’m a raw nerve about this stuff. If I find someone who teaches something I want to learn, I can’t get enough. That’s [what] makes me an artist.”

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