DEALER & DESIGNER SPOTLIGHT
William Spratling American Architect & Journalist Who Launched a Silver Industry in Taxco, Mexico
A retrospective of Spratling's work is planned for 2012 at the Museo Franz Mayer in Mexico City. El Rancho Spratling, the designer's last home and taller (workshop), is being earmarked as a destination for craft minded travelers. And, new issues of Spratling's designs, made from his own drawings and molds, are being marketed.
The push to resurrect the Spratling legacy lies primarily in the hands of Consuelo and Violante Ulrich, who have acquired the rights to the designer's homes - El Rancho Spratling and Las Delicias, site of his first workshop - the Spratling brand and the designs.
Although William Spratling left many items to the Anthropology Museum in Mexico City and more to the Taxco Museum, the Ulrichs have donated hundreds of items found in Spratling's home and workshop to Mexico City’s Franz Mayer Museum. A retrospective of Spratling's work is planned for Fall 2012 at the Mayer. Penny Morrill, the leading Spratling expert, has been asked to curate.
Taxco, once a destination for Hollywood types and wealthy tourists, has not been a bucket list item for many years. But any visit to Taxco is an opportunity to get in touch with silver maestros Spratling, Hector Aguilar, Antonio Pineda, and others whose work is highly valued by collectors.
The Ulrichs are currently renovating the Spratling’s home and workshops to accommodate cultural travelers. The package would include a short course in silver making, utilizing Spratling’s techniques and molds. The launch date for the venture is still undetermined.
Meanwhile, as the lens tightens on mid-century modernism in all its forms, one must ask: How did an American come to lead the revolution is silver design in Mexico?
Spratling visited Mexico City for the first time in 1926 and, basically, never returned. He fit in with the Mexican contextual society as comfortably as the right piece in a jigsaw puzzle. The international scene was in full swing. Mexico welcomed avant-garde Americans as much as New York doted on Diego Rivera, Miguel Covarrubias, Frieda Kahlo, Jose Limon and others.
Diego Rivera relates in his autobiography "My Art, My Life," that he made the gift of a house in Taxco to Spratling. A suggestion from Dwight Morrow, then the U.S. Ambassador to Mexico, that Spratling experiment with silver, a metal that had previously not been used for jewelry in Taxco, got the ball rolling.
Spratling took instruction from a gold maestro in the nearby town of Iguala and, in turn, taught six boys the craft of silver making. As his business and the number of plateros (silversmiths) grew, he encouraged experimentation and entrepreneurship. Consequently, an entire generation of Taxco master craftsmen owed their success to William Spratling.
Spratling was passionate about pre-Columbian motifs. Although he took inspiration from the rancheros - using their ropes and straps and balls to define his creations - he returned time and again to the muse of an earlier civilization. Eventually, Spratling created jewelry and objects that married pre-Columbian motifs with Art Deco.
In experimenting with materials, he combined Mexican rosewood with silver. He incorporated turquoise, abalone, coral and occasionally hard stones like obsidian into designs. Ultimately, however, if there is a William Spratling "look," it is, according to Penny Morrill, clean and classic, devoid of unnecessary decoration.
Ironically, in 1945, the U.S. Department of Interior asked this American living in Mexico to teach Alaskan students the trade. The objective was for students to apply the designs of the Northwest to their ventures in silver.
It is hard to say who gained more from the project. Spratling created two hundred designs for the seven students who trained with him. They worked with the plateros at El Rancho Spratling. Although the program broke down shortly after the students returned home, Spratling's late designs display a strong American Northwest influence.
The Alaskan-inspired designs, which have never before been viewed as a body of work, surfaced recently and now reside in Smithsonian's Museum of the American Indian in New York City. They are featured in Sandy Baum's forthcoming book, "The William Spratling Legacy, with forewords by Violante and Consuelo Ulrich.
William Spratling is today claimed by both America and Mexico. Spratling and the maestros of Taxco were documented as early as 1962 by Mary L. Davis and Greta Pack in "Mexican Jewelry." In the mid-1990's, Penny C. Morrill released a series of books on the Taxco maestros that are still regarded as the authoritative works.
In October, Schiffer Books releases Baum's "The William Spratling Legacy. It can be pre-ordered on Amazon.com
In Mexico, Spratllng's contributions figure prominently in "Vida y Diseño in Mexico Siglo XX," a thick coffee-table book produced by Fomento Cultural Banamex.
William Spratling was, according to those who knew him, larger than life. It is time for his legacy to become, once again, widespread.
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