Reflecting on Margaret De Patta: San Francisco’s Velvet da Vinci Gallery exhibits new jewelry with old stones acquired from De Patta’s estate through February 29, 2012
This evening while The Oakland Museum of California celebrates tomorrow’s public opening of “Space-Light Structure: The Jewelry of Margaret De Patta,” the highly-anticipated retrospective of modernist jewelry pioneer Margaret De Patta’s work, San Francisco’s Velvet da Vinci Gallery will launch “The De Patta Project,” it’s own celebration of De Patta’s creative legacy from 6 to 8 p.m.
Studio jeweler Margaret De Patta (1903-1964) blended Constructivist principles with Bauhaus design to create miniature sculpture that moved with its wearer. Based in the Bay Area, De Patta, who studied with Bauhaus sculptor Moholy-Nagy in Chicago is credited with starting the American studio jewelry movement on the West Coast. The Oakland Museum holds the largest collection of De Patta’s work, most of which was donated by her (third) husband Eugene Bielawski after the artist’s untimely death by suicide in 1964. “Space-Light-Structure” features more than 60 jewelry pieces as well as ceramics, flatware, photographs, pictograms, and newly released archival material. The exhibition is a collaboration with the Museum of Arts and Design in New York.
De Patta’s nontradtional use of gemstones and non-precious pebbles as well as her use of simple lines and structure to create elegant architectural forms are key to the understanding the importance of her influence on the field of contemporary jewelry. De Patta and experimental lapidary artist Francis J. Sperisen explored the optical effects of faceting and lenses on gemstones to create wearable sculpture unlike any jewelry of the time.
“The De Patta Project” was born when Velvet da Vinci purchased many of these unset stones from the estate of Margaret De Patta. The lot included beautiful cut stones by Francis J. Sperisen (mainly rutilated quartz and agate), as well as cabochon stones and beach pebbles found by De Patta. Gallerist Mike Holmes explained that many of these stones actually came to him from Eugene Bielawski in packaging especially prepared by De Patta. She had a practice of wrapping individual stones in paper drawings and notes explaining their intended use that were intended for her long-time collaborator and stone cutter Francis J. Sperisen. “This was such a treasure and such a surprise that we’ve made those drawings part of the exhibition too,” explained Holmes.
Sixteen accomplished and well-known jewelers, many from the Bay Area, have now used these select stones to create pieces for the exhibition at Velvet da Vinci which runs through February, concurrent with the Oakland Museum De Patta retrospective. Along with these bold and unique contemporary jewelry creations, the show will also include some of De Patta’s drawings and tools as well as a display explaining how De Patta achieved some of the special effects that made her legendary. With the clever and studied use of aspects of illusion and tricks of perspective that she applied to transparent stones, she implemented Moholy-Nagy’s advice to “catch your stones in the air.” She produced pendants that seemed to both float and have stones within them that also floated. She was also a master of composition, creating pieces that amplified the elements of perspective, the use of blind areas, floating lines and reflected and double imagery through the use of crystals. She also experimented with movement in her works and engineered pieces that had pivoting parts that could be worn in various positions, often covering or revealing stones and changing the color composition of the piece to suit the wearer’s preference.
The works in “The De Patta Project” make bold and beautiful use of some of De Patta’s concepts. Many of the creations use the native qualities of stones as their focal points─the hairlike inclusions of rutilated quartz being a favorite. Gorgeous pebble pieces too, with fine gold and silver etching, following and accentuating the natural grain of the stone, are popular.
All of the pieces in “The De Patta Project” will be for sale.
Deborah Boskin, Petra Class, Sandra Enterline, Geoffrey Giles, Joanna Gollberg, April Higashi, Tom Hill, Mike Holmes, Dave Jones, Terri Logan, Deb Lozier, Maja, Dawn Nakanishi, Brigid O’Hanrahan, Julia Turner, Andrea Williams
Discover some of the jewelry in Velvet De Vinci’s “The De Patta Project” online here.
Discover Margaret De Patta’s work online by exploring OMCA’s online collection of De Patta creations.
Stay tuned to ARThound for coverage of “Space-Light Structure” and an interview with Julie Muñiz, OMCA Associate Curator of Craft & Decorative Art. Muñiz co-curated the groundbreaking exhibition with Ursula Isle-Neuman, MAD (Museum of Arts and Design) Curator of Jewelry.
Details: Velvet da Vinci Gallery is located at 2015 Polk Street (near Broadway), San Francisco, CA, 94109. Phone: 415.441.0109. Normal gallery hours: Tuesday-Saturday 11 to 6, Sundays 11-4. Special opening for “The De Patta Project” Friday, February 4, 2012 from 6 to 8 p.m.
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