Margaret De Patta
(Tacoma, Washington, 1903 - 1964, Oakland, California)
A key figure in the studio jewelry movement, De Patta was dedicated to the ideals of Bauhaus design and the modern art principles of abstraction and constructivism, which are evident in her jewelry as well as in her photography. She studied painting and sculpture at the California School of Fine Arts and at the Arts Students League in New York, where she was exposed to the work of the European avant-garde. De Patta became interested in making jewelry when she could not find a wedding band that suited the modernist tastes she had developed during her studies. She soon gave up painting to devote herself entirely to jewelry making. For De Patta, jewelry design shared many of the same concerns as modern architecture and sculpture, as both involved “space, form, tension, organic structure, scale, texture, interpenetration, superimposition, and economy of means.”
De Patta learned about photography during a summer course at Mills College in Oakland taught by the founding director of the Chicago School of Design, Hungarian artist László Moholy-Nagy (1895 –1946) who was a former member of the German Bauhaus and a renowned teacher and innovator in the fields of photography and Constructivist sculpture. Eager to expand her understanding of modernist theories and learn new artistic techniques, in 1941 De Patta traveled to Chicago to study with Moholy-Nagy, who had a profound impact on her artistic vision and inspired her use of the photogram technique to collapse three-dimensional forms into flat images.
In line with Bauhaus ideals, De Patta later sought to produce jewelry that made high design affordable and accessible to average people. Her work is included in the collections of the Oakland Museum of California; the Museum of Arts and Design, NY; The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; the Art Institute of Chicago; and the Smithsonian American Art Museum, among others.