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             William Spratling

Who was William Spratling and his influence in the silver jewelry production in Taxco


William Spratling was an American artist who came to be known as “The Father of Mexican Silver” due to his initiative and creativity.  He was born in New York State in 1900 and moved to Alabama in 1910 following the death of his mother and a sister.  After graduating from Alabama Polytechnic Institute, where he had studied architecture, he taught the same subject at Auburn University.  In 1921, Tulane University in New Orleans, Louisiana, offered him an Associate Professorship of Architecture, and he accepted.

During this time, he lived with William Faulkner and published many works, including Sherwood Anderson and Other Famous Creoles (1926), and numerous articles in Scribner’s Magazine, Architecture Record, Journal of the A.I.A., and various other publications for architecture and travel.  He was active in the New Orleans “literary colony,” and had among his associates there Natalie Scott, Sherwood Anderson, Oliver La Farge, Frans Blom, and John Dos Passos.

In 1926, Spratling made his first visit to Mexico, returning each summer until finally moving there permanently in 1929.  He was welcomed into the artistic community, becoming friends with Diego Rivera, whose art Spratling promoted in the United States.  With funding from the Carnegie Institute, Spratling organized the first exhibition of Mexican art in the United States, at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.  The exhibit featured Rivera’s murals as well as some of Spratling’s own work.  Using commissions from Rivera, Spratling purchased a home in Taxco, silver jewelry capital of the world.

The US Ambassador to Mexico, Dwight Morrow, mentioned to Spratling in 1931 that, while Taxco was traditionally a mining town, it could become a mecca for silverworking artisans.  Spratling hired an experienced Iguala goldsmith and began designing jewelry based on pre-Columbian motifs, traditional designs, and simple themes such as rope borders, straps, and nature-inspired patterns.  As his reputation grew, other artists and craftsmen came to Taxco; soon Spratling began an apprenticeship program.  The focus was silverworking but also included tin, copper, textiles, and even furniture, all designed by William Spratling.  After completing apprenticeships, many artisans remained in the area, opening their own shops with Spratling’s support.

During World War II, when American stores were unable to import goods from Europe, Mexico became the source of luxury goods.  To keep up with demand, Spratling accepted private investors, but by the end of 1944 he lost control of the company.  By early 1946, Spratling y Artesanos was out of business.

Spratling moved from Taxco to a ranch he had purchased in Taxco El Viejo.  There, he continued to design jewelry and other objects, and train apprentices.  His work is often considered an “expression of Mexican nationalism,” and he is credited with giving Mexican artisans the freedom to create designs that broke away from the European styles.

Tragically, William Spratling was killed in an auto accident outside Taxco in 1967, dying at the age of 66.  However, his fusion of the area’s valuable history and indigenous culture with his own vitality and spirit created an artistic and economic foundation that continues to flourish today.

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