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William Spratling and The Mexican Silver Renaissance in Taxco
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
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.
More Online Resources
biography and reference material as well as history and forums-- The comprehensive Spratling site
- Mexican Silver Marks I - Online Encyclopedia
Mexican Silver Marks - Most extensive internet resource for research of Silver Marks, Hallmarks & Maker's Marks
- The History of Silver in Taxco Mexico
a fascinating combination of fact and legend regarding the relationship of Taxco to silver from Aztec times to the present day.
- Taxco Silver Capital of Mexico - Taxco City Guide - Taxco Tourist Information
Everything you need to get started if you want to visit Taxco from About.com
Basic Mexican Silver References
An indispensable accurate guide to Mexican makers marks, their history and much more