Who Was William Spratling?
William Spratling was born in 1900 in Sonyea, New York. His
father was well respected and widely known for his study and writings concerning epilepsy.
After the death of both Spratling's mother and sister, Wilhelmina, in
1910, Spratling's father moved temporarily to his father's
Alabama home (known as Roamer's Roost) with sons William and David as
well as older daughter, Lucile. At that time, the three Spratling
children became wards of their grandfather. By the end of 1912,
the family had moved once more and the children were separated; each
went to live with with various aunts and uncles.
In 1917 William Spratling attended Auburn University and a
year or two later, during his stay at Auburn served as an instructor in architecture.
Spratling moved to New Orleans in 1921 where he was an Associate Professor of Architecture
at Tulane University.
During the following nine years, Spratling published
articles in Scribners Magazine, Journal of the A.I.A., Architecture Record,
and many other architecture and travel publications. He became an active part of the New
Orleans literary colony during those years, and his frequent companions were Natalie
Scott, Sherwood Anderson, Oliver La Farge, Frans Blom, John Dos Passos and William
Faulkner. Faulkner lived with Spratling for a time, and together they wrote and published Sherwood
Anderson and Other Famous Creoles in 1926.
1926 was also when Spratling visited Mexico for the first
time. He returned for summers over the next several years, and in 1929, moved to
Mexico. Spratling quickly was introduced to and became a welcome
participant in the artistic circles of Mexico. His activities in
promoting the art of Diego Rivera among New York galleries led to his
participation in the first exhibition of Mexican arts held in the
United States. The exhibit was funded by the Carnegie Institute
and opened at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Spratling
assisted in assembling the exhibit and also lent a number of his own
pieces. During this same period, Spratling was working on
drawings for the expanding Morrow home in Cuernavaca. Many of these
drawings were included in the book written by Elizabeth Morrow, Casa
Dwight Morrow, the US Ambassador to Mexico, suggested to
Spratling in 1931 that Taxco had been the site of silver mines for centuries, but Taxco
had never been considered a location where jewelry and objects of silver were designed and
made. Subsequently, Spratling hired an experienced goldsmith from Iguala who moved to Taxco and
created silver jewelry of Spratlings design. Other craftsmen
joined Spratling's shop and produced tin ware, copper items, textiles
and furniture - all designed by Spratling. These earliest designs were based on
pre-Columbian motifs as well as simple themes utilizing rope borders, strap designs and
other such basic ideas. The enterprise grew far beyond Spratlings expectations!
Because he had created an apprentice system of training young silversmiths many new
talented artisans had an opportunity to develop their craft. Over time many of these
artisans opened shops of their own all with Spratlings support.
During the Second World War, U.S. department stores were
unable to import merchandise from Europe, and many retail stores purchased luxury goods in
Mexico. In order to meet this dramatic increase in demand, Spratling opened his company to
private investors, and by the end of 1944 had lost control of his
company. Early in 1946, Spratling y Artesanos was out of
By this time, Spratling had moved to a ranch he had
earlier purchased south of Taxco at Taxco-el-Viejo. He never again lived
within the town of Taxco.
In 1946, he was asked by the U.S. Department of the
Interior to develop a plan for development of native crafts in Alaska, and in 1949, a
group of 7 young men from Alaska arrived at Spratling's ranch at
Taxco-el-Viejo and began their training. Spratling had designed and
produced 200 models for that effort, but after the men completed their training and
returned to Alaska, the program languished primarily due to lack of
government funding. The actual benefits of the program (both for
Alaskans and for Spratling) were never
realized. The time, however, that Spratling spent studying Alaskan
native cultures and visiting all parts of Alaska created great impact
as seen in Spratling's later silver designs. His design ethic in
1949 was dramatically different from those designs of the 1930s until
mid 1940. He also used new materials in combination with silver
for many of these later designs.
Spratling continued to rebuild his business and had
silversmiths fabricating his jewelry and object designs at his ranch. His designs were
also produced by the Conquistador Company in Mexico City for a couple of years. Spratling
published More Human Than Divine in 1960 and his archaeological interests
not only continued but by the early 1960s seemed to take precedence over
the creation of new silver designs. He donated collections of his
pre-Columbian materials to the National University of Mexico and the National
Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City.
Spratling has been called by many "a Renaissance
Man." Throughout Mexico he is acknowledged as "The Father of Mexican
Silver." Certainly the town of Taxco and its economy would be vastly different
without the initiative and creativity of this man. He complemented its valuable historic
past with a new vitality and spirit which recognized the importance of the indigenous
culture. The artistic and economic foundation he established continues to flourish today.
William Spratling was killed on August 7, 1967 in an
automobile accident just outside Taxco.