William Spratling: the Man and the Movement
-by Martha Whitney Butler
How one man from the Northeast breathed life into the Mexican silver movement will always be beyond me. It seems like he's accomplished the ultimate artistic dream: to start a movement that has continued to be recognized throughout the years.
What drives a person to leave their intended career path to explore their creative desires? It's a situation a lot of artists face. It guarantees nothing and there is no way to predict the outcome, yet we still take the leap, most of us believing that re-entry into the steady and predictable world we leave is an option.
Designer William Spratling’s interests evolved from his intended career as Associate Professor of Architecture at the Tulane School of Architecture, to writing upon the subject, and to joining literary circles of accomplished authors such as William Faulkner, with whom he wrote Sherwood Anderson and Other Famous Creoles in 1926.
Nudged by U.S. Ambassador Dwight Morrow, he visited the town of Taxco, which had been the site of silver mines for centuries, even though it was not particularly known for producing silver objects and jewelry. It was here he decided to set up his studio, Taller de las Delicias. Keep in mind that Spratling was not known for being a silversmith, but for being a designer. His business model was based on employing native silver- and goldsmiths to produce his designs which were primarily inspired by pre-Colombian motifs.
The production of these designs extended from tin and copper items to textiles and furniture as other craftsmen were employed. His growing enterprise surpassed his expectations and paved the way for many up and coming young silversmiths and artists. Taller de las Delicias gave these artisans an opportunity to develop their craft and led them to open their own shops with the support and encouragement of Spratling - thus spurring the movement we know today as the Taxco Movement.
Spratling's earliest silver jewelry designs were stamped with a hallmark that replicated the brand he used for his horses. Just a few years later, around 1933, Spratling developed the structure of a hallmarking format that he followed until his untimely death in an automobile accident in 1967. He spent over thirty years developing his craft and the craft of the Mexican silver movement and his designs fetch record prices in antique shops and auctions.
You may recall the Spratling earrings I mentioned in last month’s article. When I mentioned them to a fellow collector, I was promptly asked how much I wanted for them. Needless to say, I couldn't give them up. Sometimes a girl’s got to have nice things.