Opening! Go Inside the Margaret De Patta’s Exhibit at the Oakland Museum of California


This week, the first major retrospective and the most extensive collection of jewelry artist Margaret De Patta’s work opens at the Oakland Museum of California. The exhibit is nothing short of stunning and definitely worth a trip to the museum.

Although not widely know, De Patta was one of the most influential jewelry designers of the last century. Her work dates back to 1929 when De Patta couldn’t find a wedding ring she liked. Frustrated, she decided to make her own.

The result: a career in modernist jewelry design that changed the course of how American studio jewelry was conceived of and made.

“She was a real trailblazer in making jewelry be its own art form,” says Executive Director of the Oakland Museum Lori Fogarty.

De Patta, who grew up in San Diego and settled down in San Francisco, went from being locally known to having international acclaim for her uniquely designed brooches, pendants and rings.

Schooled in the Bauhaus and Constructivist movements, De Patta was a formative member of the mid-century California artist community.

“László Moholy-Nagy was her mentor,” says the curator of the Oakland Museum exhibit Julie Muñiz. “He is the one that really taught her about Bauhaus and Constructivism.”

De Patta also collaborated with a stonecutter named Francis Sperisen and together they experimented with different ways to cut and use gems to play with light, distortion and flaws in the stones. “She wanted gems to [do] more than sparkle and look pretty,” Muñiz says.

Using mostly rutilated quartz, De Patta invented “opticuts,” which showed off the stone’s distortion and different colored splinters that naturally occur in the rock. “They used to be seen as flawed stones but she used them as design elements,” Muñiz says. “Even though it’s a static object it’s still a very dynamic object.”

Space-Light-Structure: The Jewelry of Margaret de Patta runs Feb. 4 – May 13 at the Oakland Museum of California. The exhibition features 50 jewelry pieces by De Patta, along with ceramics, flatware, photographs, photograms and archival material; it also has artwork by László Moholy-Nagy, György Kepes and El Lissitzsky.

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