William Spratling and The Mexican Silver Renaissance in Taxco

William Spratling
William Spratling | Source

In 1929, a young, well-connected American architect named William Spratling, left his job as an assistant professor of architecture at Tulane University in New Orleans and moved permanently to Mexico where he had been a summer visitor for several years.

The move not only changed his life but altered the future of Mexican silversmithing by revitalizing the old colonial city of Taxco. The hillside city had been a center of silver mining and the working of silver into ornaments, art and utensils since the days of the Aztecs.

Spratling was drawn to the explosion of creative and artistic energy that took place in Mexico in the wake of the Mexican Revolution of 1910. Mexico, having been under the heel of European Colonialism and North American expansion for so long, was experiencing a desire to return to its native, indigenous roots.

Artists like Diego Rivera were documenting native Mexican history in huge murals. Government and culture were moving away from foreign influences and towards the ancient native traditions of the Mexican nation. William Spratling arrived in Mexico at the perfect moment to participate in the explosion of artistic creativity that followed in the wake of Mexican independence and to leave his hallmark on it through Taxco and silver.

An Introduction to Taxco

How It Came About

William Spratling opened his first atelier, La Aduana,in Taxco in 1931 where he designed and fashioned a variety of silver items using pre-columbian themes for inspiration. Spratling was energized not only by the vibrant art and political scene in post revolutionary Mexico, but also by the intellectual and historical stimulation of Taxco itself. It was Spratling's friend, Dwight Morrow, at the time American Ambassador to Mexico, who inspired Spratling's vision by remarking:

"What a pity that of all the thousands of tons of silver sent back from Taxco to the old world over the centuries, that none of this ever stayed here nor was utilized to create an industry or economy for Taxco."

Spratling changed all that. He initiated a demanding apprentice system to train Mexican silversmiths and bring back traditional techniques. His unique designs and fine quality attracted worldwide notice.. By 1935 his success dictated a move to larger quarters. he named the new space, located near Taxco's main square, "Taller de las Delicias." This is the venue that became famous as Spratling's workshop, and the place where the work that first defined him was done. The Spratling atelier was infused with a unique creative energy that attracted the best and the brightest. When the apprentices he trained were ready to move out on their own, they did so with the support and blessing of the master. Thus, Taxco grew as a center for silver and fine craftsmanship just as Spratling had originally envisioned and not only Spratling, but the silversmiths he trained and others who were attracted by his presence in Taxco gravitated to the scene. But success brought its own problems.

In 1944 the workshop, by now world famous, moved again to larger quarters and Spratling enlarged the business and brought in outside investers, giving up some of his control to them and their needs. Their vision differed from his and in 1945, he resigned from the business he had created and retired to his ranch to work on his own and to create yet another period of exciting and innovative Spratling design. His later work was influenced by a number of outside influences, including time spent in Alaska working with native crafts and craftspeople. This was the period when he indulged his desire to experiment with a variety of techniques and materials and produced some of his most mature and creative pieces.

William Spratling was killed in an automobile accident outside Taxco on August 7, 1967. His ranch, his hallmarks, and all designs were purchased by his friend,. Alberto Ulrich, whose family continued to produce Spratling designs through the company Sucesores de William Spratling, S.A. de C.V. . I am lucky enough to be the proud owner of a Jaguar coffee service made by Sucesores de William Spratling, S.A. de C.V. in 1964. It was given to me as a wedding gift along with a little book written by Spratling himself.

Taxco is still known in Mexico as " the silver city" and Spratling, who is so loved by the people of Taxco that they erected a statue to him and named a street after him, is fittingly remembered as " the father of Mexican Sliver"-- and so he is.


Spratling Jaguar Coffee Service

Jaguar Coffee service by Sucessores de Spratling
Jaguar Coffee service by Sucessores de Spratling | Source

Classic Spratling Designs Inspired by Aztec and Mayan Motifs

The following photographs, culled from museum and private collections, show a group of classic Spratling designs and illustrate his interest in the ancient indigenous cultural symbols of Mexico. They were part of a 2002 exhibit in a San Antonio, Texas museum entitled Maestros de Plata: William Spratling and Mexico's Silver Renaissance . Photos by Modern Silver Magazine.

silver and amethyst fish pin
silver and amethyst fish pin | Source
Silver and tortoiseshell jaguar
Silver and tortoiseshell jaguar | Source
Mayan Cross Necklace
Mayan Cross Necklace | Source
Spratling Jaguar Necklace with Amethysts
Spratling Jaguar Necklace with Amethysts | Source

Basic Mexican Silver References

Little Book of Mexican Silver Trade and Hallmarks Hecho en Mexico
Little Book of Mexican Silver Trade and Hallmarks Hecho en Mexico

An indispensable accurate guide to Mexican makers marks, their history and much more

 
William Spratling and the Mexican Silver Renaissance: Maestros de Plata
William Spratling and the Mexican Silver Renaissance: Maestros de Plata

The ultimate coffee table book filled with magnificent photographs of the 2002-2004 traveing exhibit of Mexican silver Maestros de Plata

 
Mexican Silver: Modern Handwrought Jewelry & Metalwork (Schiffer Book for Collectors)
Mexican Silver: Modern Handwrought Jewelry & Metalwork (Schiffer Book for Collectors)

The definitive reference book on Mexican Silver. Beautiful photos. Now a collector's item.

 
Spratling Silver
Spratling Silver

Magnificent photos and text in this ultimate reference on Spratling's life and work

 

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Comments 19 comments

stephhicks68 profile image

stephhicks68 5 years ago from Bend, Oregon

Wow - what an interesting hub, and I have to say that I really love the Mexican silver necklaces pictured above. Your coffee service is simply amazing, as well. Very cool! Best, Steph


diogenes profile image

diogenes 5 years ago from UK and Mexico

Hi Robie. I spent many happy days in Taxco and exported silver pieces to Austalia in the early nineties. It is a unique place rather marred by the horrendous traffic problem in the narrow streets today. I have published articles on Taxco in several newspapers...Bob


robie2 profile image

robie2 5 years ago from Central New Jersey Author

Hi Steph-- Spratling was an absolute genius and the vintage Mexican silver was so fine and more silver than sterling which gives it a special weight and texture. Thanks for stopping by and commenting.

Hi Bob--- I was only in Taxco once, many many years ago. I'm sure it has changed a lot since then--sorry to hear about the traffic:-) but I have loved Taxco silver always and I think Spratling did amazing work.


Frieda Babbley profile image

Frieda Babbley 5 years ago from Saint Louis, MO

Oh how awesome! Very cool. Love in depth information about vintage stuff like this. I'm sharing!


prasetio30 profile image

prasetio30 5 years ago from malang-indonesia

Wow...this was very interesting hub. I learn many things from this hub. Thanks for writing and share with us. Well done and rated up!

Prasetio


Tom Rubenoff profile image

Tom Rubenoff 5 years ago from United States

Fascinating history and incredible designs. Thank you.


robie2 profile image

robie2 5 years ago from Central New Jersey Author

Frieda-- share away:-) glad you enjoyed and thanks for stopping by

prasetio30 thanks for voting this up and I am so glad you enjoyed it--Mexican silver really is amazing, isn't it?

Hi Tom-- yes the designs are inspired by Aztec and Maya designs and really hark back to the original people of Mexico. The golden age of this was the 1920's through the '60's. Only a few craftsmen are left who adhere to these same high standards


JamaGenee profile image

JamaGenee 5 years ago from Central Oklahoma

Very nice history of Spratling and his silver. As you know, I'm more partial to traditional tea and coffee services a la the British, but your coffee service is lovely as well as a piece of history.


robie2 profile image

robie2 5 years ago from Central New Jersey Author

Thanks for dropping by, Jama, and glad you found the Spratling story interesting. He really was quite a guy.


Sally's Trove profile image

Sally's Trove 5 years ago from Southeastern Pennsylvania

I enjoyed reading about the role Spratling played in establishing Taxco as a center of silver design. Dwight Morrow's words and Spratling's creative energy exemplify the collaboration of contemplation and action that, under the right circumstances, in the right time, can move mountains. Thanks for this most interesting history about the silver treasures you and I appreciate today.


robie2 profile image

robie2 5 years ago from Central New Jersey Author

Thanks ST for that cogent observation-- you are right on the money, as usual:-)


tiare808 profile image

tiare808 5 years ago

Wow, cool. Its good that there are people who share things that are historic in other places. I'm in hawaii and I like learning things from other places of the world. :)


robie2 profile image

robie2 5 years ago from Central New Jersey Author

Glad you enjoyed the hub and hope you'll be writing some interesting hubs about Hawaii-- Aloha and thanks for stopping by:-)


James A Watkins profile image

James A Watkins 4 years ago from Chicago

What a story! And you told it so well. I have not been to Taxco but my best friend has and believes it to be one of the most beautiful places in North America.

The silver art you displayed is magnificent! I so enjoyed this Hub. Thank you for this treasure. :-)


robie2 profile image

robie2 4 years ago from Central New Jersey Author

Why, thank you James. You are too kind. Yes, Spratling was a fascinating character and Taxco is a beautiful place and well worth a visit. Thanks for stopping by and taking the time to comment.


cat on a soapbox profile image

cat on a soapbox 4 years ago from Los Angeles

Hi Robie,

I'm so happy to see this hub! I am a huge fan of Spratling and the silversmiths of Taxco. Voted up!!!


robie2 profile image

robie2 4 years ago from Central New Jersey Author

Hello cat-- me too--I'm a huge fan too, as you can see. William Spratling was a genius OMHO and the work that he inspired in Taxco is just amazing as well.


ElizaDoole profile image

ElizaDoole 4 years ago from London

This was a really interesting hub about the silver produced by Spratling. I had not heard of this artist, I love the pictures you have on this hub of his work and your tea service too.


robie2 profile image

robie2 4 years ago from Central New Jersey Author

Thanks Eliza-- glad you enjoyed it. I love the story of Mexican silver and Taxco and Spratling's work was really amazing. Thanks for stopping by and reading and commenting

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