Spratling-Taxco Collection

Call Number: Latin American Library Manuscripts, Collection 148

1930s-present. Original silver design drawings and sketches for book illustrations, photographs, taped and videotaped interviews of silver designers and silversmiths, prints portfolios, two watercolor paintings, and other material documenting the work of William Spratling and other major figures in Mexico's modern silver and crafts industry, including Chato, Coco, Miguel, and Antonio Castillo (Los Castillo) Margot van Voorhies Carr (d. 1985), Frederick W. Davis (1880-1961) and Sigfrido Pineda (b. 1929). 1,497 design drawings; 866 pieces.

PDF Guide to the Spratling Collection

Prepared by Margarita Becerra and Hortensia Calvo, with the collaboration of Penny Chittim Morrill.

Introductory Notes
The collection was established in 2004-2007 through a substantial donation from art historian and Newcomb College alumna, Penny Chittim Morrill (‘69). David Freeberg contributed to the donation with conservation work on the Spratling drawings.  In 2008, the library received two more donations from Taxco silver designer María Pineda and Earl D. Retif, a collector from New Orleans.  The collection continues to grow as more pieces are acquired through purchase and through continued donations from Dr. Morrill.  

Dr. Morrill’s expressed intention was that the library would continue to acquire, preserve and provide access for research on the artistic and entrepreneurial legacy of William Spratling, and the generations of artisans and designers involved in the Taxco silver industry.  The collection documents the work of major silversmiths and designers, but focuses largely on:  William Spratling (1900-1967) writer, journalist, architectural draftsman, painter, designer of jewelry, tableware, furniture and other household items, entrepreneur and adventurer, a true Renaissance man who spawned the rebirth of the Mexican silver industry beginning in the 1930s; the firm of Los Castillo, where the four brothers Chato, Coco, Miguel, and Antonio introduced innovative techniques and designs; Margot van Voorhies Carr, also known as Margot de Taxco (d. 1985), noted for her enamel-on-silver work fusing Japanese motifs with Mayan and Art Deco-inspired designs; Frederick W. Davis (1880-1961), who left a lasting mark on Mexican folk art as both an enthusiastic promoter of native handcrafts and contemporary art, as well as a recognized silver designer in his own right; and Sigfrido (Sigi) Pineda (b.1929), whose distinctive abstract modernist style developed in the early 1950s inspired a new sensibility among Taxco designers.

Biographical Notes
William Spratling came to the French Quarter in 1922 as a young instructor at Tulane University.  His eight years in New Orleans provide the early glimmerings of a life of unbridled creativity.  He collaborated on several books, was an architectural draftsman, and taught courses at the Arts and Crafts Club.  In New Orleans, he became friends with Sherwood Anderson, Frans Blom, Lyle Saxon, William Faulkner, Natalie Scott and other writers and intellectuals with whom he maintained lifelong friendships.  For several summers, Spratling taught in Mexico before moving to Taxco permanently in 1929.  His 1932 literary masterpiece Little Mexico (New York:  J. Cape and H. Smith, 1932) came out of his observations of life in that remote mountainous region.  In order to sustain himself, Spratling took the advice of several friends, among them, then U.S. Ambassador Dwight Morrow and muralist Diego Rivera, to revive Taxco's silver industry.  In 1931, Spratling brought two goldsmiths from Iguala to teach Silversmithing to a small group of young men.
Spratling named his workshop Taller de Las Delicias.  His designs for jewelry and decorative objects, based on folk art and ancient Mexican motifs, sold well to tourists.  By 1940, he was employing 300 craftsmen.  Other industries followed at Las Delicias — tinware, handloomed wool rugs and blankets, and wood and leather furniture — all of which have continued to bring financial security to hundreds of Taxqueñians.  The young men who learned silversmithing at Las Delicias went on to organize their own workshops, among them, Antonio Pineda, the Castillo family, and Héctor Aguilar. These very successful enterprises employed hundreds of artisans who produced work that is highly prized for its technical quality and strength of design.  In 1949, Spratling was asked to devise a workshop structure for a jewelry and metalworking industry in Alaska, an experience that had a profound influence on his work in the 1950s.  Spratling died of complications from a car accident in 1967.

Los Castillo
From 1939, the combined talents of brothers Chato, Coco, Miguel, and Antonio Castillo have resulted in the production of some of the most creative and innovative silver jewelry, hollowware, and flatware in the world.  In the early years, Antonio's wife Margot van Voorhies and cousin Salvador Terán participated in the design process for Los Castillo.  After 1950, Chato, as principal designer, experimented with an extraordinary variety of materials and techniques.  He is best known for inventing metales casados, a technique in which several metals are used for the purpose of providing color in the composition.  In the 1950s, Chato Castillo, with Estela Powposki and other artists, also developed metales divorciados, onix incrustado, and plata pavonada.

Margot van Voorhies Carr, a.k.a Margot de Taxco
In 1948, U.S.-born Margot van Voorhies left Los Castillo to found her own workshop, Margot de Taxco.  Having come to Mexico from San Francisco as an artist, Margot was inspired by Japanese art and by the work of Art Deco designers and craftsmen.  She produced beautifully finished ensembles — necklaces, brooches, bracelets, and earrings — in silver and in enamel-on-silver, or champlevé.  In her workshop, the men fashioned the silver jewelry and the women were responsible for enameling.  With tiny brushes, they painted in color according to Margot's designs that had been delicately drawn in watercolor.  Margot's two lines of jewelry were distinguished by their variety, elegance, and femininity.

Frederick W. Davis
Born in 1880, Fred Davis left the United States in 1910 for Mexico, where he established himself as a recognized silver designer as well as a promoter of native Mexican folk art and contemporary artists.  Early on, as assistant manager of the Sonora News Company, Davis traveled around the country to buy folk art to sell in the company’s outlets in railway stations.  He thus acquired a deep knowledge of native Mexican crafts from every region.  By the time he was promoted to manager, he had established an extensive network of artisans and silversmiths from which he would by directly.  He also began designing, occasionally with Valentín Vidaurreta, his own brand of silver jewelry and decorative pieces, drawing on his fascination with Pre-Columbian art. In 1927, Davis began a fruitful collaboration with René d’Harnoncourt to expand the company’s distribution of fine and popular Mexican art.  In so doing they left a lasting mark on the Mexican crafts industry.  In 1933, d’Harnoncourt left Mexico, and for the next twenty years Davis became manager of antiques and fine crafts at Sanborn’s department store in Mexico City, where he continued to promote and design Mexican handcrafts and silver jewelry.  Davis died in 1961.

Sigifredo Pineda
Born in Taxco in 1929, Pineda (Sigi) may be one of the last of the great historic artisans of Taxco. He developed his own style in the early 1950s, incorporating a more international flavor to his work than his contemporaries and predecessors who were exploring symbolic Mexican themes. Sigi’s version of organic modernism was inspirational in developing and establishing a new design sensibility in Taxco, Mexican Modernism, adding to the established Mexican art vocabulary. (Adapted from: “Sigi Pineda Looking to the Future” by Sheila Pamfiloff and Javier Olivares

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