Artist: Frank Patania Sr. October 05 2017
Frank Patania Sr. was born in Messina Italy in 1899. At the age of 6, he began an apprenticeship in goldsmithing. Frank was taught that he would have to master each task given to him before he could move forward in his training beginning with the sweeping of the floor, learning two valuable lessons: “first, a master’s understanding of every aspect of the craft. And second, the discipline to put that understanding to work.”
Patania Sr. was on his way to New York City at the age of 10. He would reside with his family in New York from 1909 to 1924. During his time in the city it was difficult for him to find work in his field as the newly installed child labor laws limited many of his options. He had to attend school to learn English and in turn was able to start work as a machinist, due in part to the need for metal working in the war efforts of WWI. After the war ended he was able find work as a jewelry designer for Stern & Company at the age of 19. Here, he would obtain a great understanding of then-current trends.
In 1924, Patania Sr. contracted tuberculosis. Out of concern for how serious the disease was Stern & Co., would send their talented designer to Santa Fe, New Mexico to recover. This journey to the Southwest would mark a big change in direction of Patania’s designs and the medium in which he worked.
In 1927, Patania Sr. opened his first Thunderbird shop in Shelby. It was in the perfect location, only steps away from the railway ticket office. This put him in a prime location to sell his pieces to the tourists that were flooding the west by train and Indian Detour cars.
The business grew in 1930 to include Pantina Sr.’s wife Aurora Masocco who helped manage the store and became a conceptual designer in her own right, creating fabulous designs. It became even more of a family affair after Pataina’s brother and sister-in-law also joined the business. They expanded to feature Indian pottery and copperwork.
Ever the hard worker, Patania Sr. dedicated himself to learning all he could about Native American jewelry. In earlier years he was trying to find his artistic voice in the new mediums. His work was of high quality and feature many hallmarks of the Southwest Navajo jewelry. By 1937, his hard work and eye for detail led to the opening of a second shop, located in Tucson Arizona.
Into the 40s and 50s his eye for spotting trends and implementing them into his work, led Pantania Sr. to incorporate naturalistic elements into his pieces, which instantly became a big hit. His ability to incorporate trends and execute popular styles in turquoise and sterling silver led him to many patrons form the local art scene like Mable Dodge and Georgia O’Keeffe. This success led him to hire Native American Craftsman. They assisted him in creating his pieces and helped to provid enough inventory to satisfy both shops and a booming mail order business. In 1950 He would open a third shop in Tucson.
During a return trip to Italy in the 1950s Patania Sr. would obtain a beautiful collection of coral that would invigorate his designs once again. He continued to work, staying on top of trends and producing pieces that would forever label him the “Cellini of the Southwest”. In 1964 Frank Patania Sr. lost his battle with cancer.
Many early pieces from the shop are unsigned, then the shop proceeded to add a thunderbird to its pieces and further still an embossed conjoined “FP”. The most recognizable mark is an incised conjoined “FP” with the Thunderbird mark.
You can see many of Frank Patania Sr.’s pieces in museums across the country, including the Smithsonian.
We Currently Have four pieces by Frank Patania Sr and the Thunderbird Shop. To learn more about one of our items for sale, click on the item's image below.
To learn more about Frank Patania Sr:
Video: Arizona Public Media did a feature on the whole Patania Family and the Thunderbird Shop. Click here to watch the video
Books: The Patanias: A legacy in silver and gold by Joanne Stuhr
Patania: 70 years of Excellence by Shari Watson Miller featured in Modern Silver Magazine
"About Patania Jewelry: Frank Patania Sr." by Sam Patania"A History of the Patania and Thunderbird Shop Hallmarks" by Frank Patania Jr.