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Margaret De Patta papers, circa 1930-2012

Biographical Note

San Francisco contemporary jewelry designer Margaret De Patta, née Strong, was born in Tacoma, Washington in 1903 and raised in San Diego, California. She was among the first contemporary studio jewelers and a proponent of modernism. De Patta studied painting at the San Diego Academy of Fine Arts from 1921-1923, the California School of Fine Arts from 1923-1925, and the New York Art Students League from 1926-1929.
Margaret De Patta began to create jewelry when she designed her own modernist wedding ring for her marriage to Sam De Patta in 1929. By the mid-1930s, she had become an accomplished jeweler whose work was frequently shown in galleries and museums. Her jewelry was featured in the 1939 Golden Gate International Exposition in San Francisco. Around 1939, De Patta also started collaborating with Francis Sperisen, a noted San Francisco lapidary. De Patta designed the shapes of the jewelry using Lucite and wood, and Sperisen would use her models as a reference for the actual gem cutting.
From 1940-1941, De Patta attended the Chicago Bauhaus (now the Institute of Design) where she studied under Laszlo Moholy-Nagy. De Patta's time at the school was formative and Moholy-Nagy was tremendously impressed with her work. She also met her future second husband Gene Bielawski while she was a student in Chicago.
In 1941, De Patta returned to San Francisco, divorced Sam De Patta, and renovated her Laidley Street house in Glen Park. In 1946, she married Eugene Bielawski. The couple taught at the California Labor School. They also moved to Napa and founded Designs Contemporary, a business for producing jewelry that was as high quality as De Patta's handcrafted pieces at more affordable prices. Since all aspects of the business were conducted by the two of them, the workload became overwhelming and Designs Contemporary closed in 1957.
In 1951, Margaret De Patta was a founding member of the San Francisco Metal Arts Guild, established to promote the metal arts and specifically address the unique needs of studio jewelers. During her lifetime, she befriended many artists and continued to create jewelry, teach, and lecture. De Patta committed suicide in 1964. Her innovative jewelry designs continue to be influential today.