Interview: Contemporary Art, Design + Jewelry Gallerist Sienna Patti

In the Berkshires, this gallery presents the potency of objects

Sienna Patti‘s artistic ambassadorial efforts manifest two-fold. First, there’s her shop in Lenox, Massachusetts—a collection of odd, exquisite and unexpected items configured as both solo and group exhibitions. Second, there’s her gallery practice, representing roughly 25 different artists, which maintains a presence at international art and design fairs. Through both, the charismatic, devoted gallerist presents the potency of objects. She explores the implied value in future artifacts and heirlooms. She seeks out items with intimacy. Patti is an important part of the ever-burgeoning Berkshires art scene.

“I’ve been here for 23 years,” she tells us. “I focus on artist-made jewelry—not artists who have someone else make a smaller version of their large work, rather I focus on people who are artists and jewelry is the primary form of expression they use to show their artistic intention.” That said, Patti’s interests also include “other items that are wearable, and photography that is about the body and adornment as a concept.”

To refer to Patti’s Lenox boutique as a jewelry store would be missing the point. “It’s less about stones and more about the value we place upon items, intrinsically,” she says. “It’s about this idea that we live in a mass-produced world but jewelry is one of the things that can still be made by hand and given from person to person. The idea that one person made this one thing for one other person.”

Patti grew up in a small town in Massachusetts but moved to NYC to study film. “I went to New York to go to New York,” she says. “I started working at Bowery Bar—now called BBar—in 1994. As an 18-year-old from the countryside, I had no clue what to expect or who would walk in. I worked the door there for six months. I also worked at The Met, in 20th Century American Decorative Arts. New York taught me to ask why we do what we do.” In many ways, it also taught her both presentation and pageantry, elements of jewelry.

When passing through Lenox, she saw the building that would hold her future gallery under construction. She’d long nursed the dream of opening a space of her own and there, before her, the opportunity presented itself. Since those fledgling days, Patti has seen Lenox and the region blossom. “It tends to be an intellectual, academic environment and places like Jacob’s Pillow make that happen,” she says. “Especially now, you have this huge influx of the cultural community, integrated with the local community.”

“In the summer I keep my doors open all the time,” she says. Many presentations in her large, bright space are left open too, so that people can touch what’s within. In addition, there are drawers and drawers and drawers of wonders. Highlights are plentiful. From Lola Brooks‘ brooches to Melanie Bilenker‘s eerie eyes and Darcy Miro‘s bracelets (which “look like they’ve been excavated from an archaeological dig,” according to Patti), styles and prices vary. Perhaps most enchanting, “Lauren Kalman is all about the nipples” as inspiration for many of her artworks—though her beaded headpiece is a fit for Bjork.

“I love showing photography and sculpture and object and jewelry together because I feel like it tells the whole story,” she says. “I try to ask, ‘What does it mean to have something in our lives? What power do we give objects?’ Jewelry is an integral part of this story. It goes on your body. It’s next to your skin. It does not need to be expensive because we imbue it with value.” In her store, there are scepters and amulets and tiaras and brooches. There are melted towers of estate sale purchases. There is art and there are ideas and they’re shown as one.

Images by Bill Wright courtesy of Sienna Patti Contemporary