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at Tulane University's Latin American Library

by Penny C. Morrill

Spratling Pin
Silver, Copper


The concept of a Mexican silver archives at Tulane University’s Latin American Library originated in the realization that time was beginning to overtake Taxco’s history. In 1995, many of the silversmiths and designers were in their seventies and several had died before their stories could be told and saved for posterity.

Taxco had reached its height as a center for silver design and production in 1935-1970. William Spratling established the first workshop in 1931 when he brought two goldsmiths from Iguala to train several young apprentices. Spratling’s designs for jewelry and objects, based on pre-Columbian art, sold quickly to tourists.


Spratling Clay Stamp Pins

Early Spratling Necklace

By 1940, he had 300 craftsmen working in the Taller de Las Delicias. Other industries followed at Las Delicias — tinware, handloomed wool rugs and blankets, and wood and leather furniture — all of which continued to bring financial security to hundreds of Taxquenians.

Spratling Candle Stick

The young men who learned silversmithing at Las Delicias went on to organize their own workshops, among them, the Castillo brothers, Héctor Aguilar, and Antonio Pineda. These very successful enterprises employed hundreds of artisans who produced work that is highly prized for its technical quality and strength of design.

 Los Castillo Pitcher
 Copper, Brass, Stone 

Hector Aguilar Pin

 Antonio Pineda Necklace
 Silver, Amethysts   

Spratling’s death in 1967,coupled with union conflicts during the sixties, brought an end to the large workshops. Today in Taxco, silver jewelry is produced on a large scale to accommodate a wholesale market. While only a few silversmiths still sell their own designs, the majority of the material is produced at a subsistence level in tiny family workshops all over the city of Taxco.
 By 1995, I had interviewed numerous silversmiths and designers and had acquired a large number of Margot van Voorhies’s design drawings for her enamelwork. It became clear that there was only one appropriate repository for the collection, Tulane University’s Latin American Library. Spratling had taught in Tulane’s Department of Architecture and was a close friend of Frans Blom, the charismatic founder of the Middle American Research Institute at Tulane (MARI) where the Latin American Library was originally housed from 1924-1940. MARI’s archive contains correspondence between Blom and Spratling, along with outstanding examples of folk art, ceramics, dance costumes, and masks that Spratling and his good friend Natalie Scott had sold or donated to MARI.

The Louisiana Research Collection at Tulane’s Howard Tilton Library holds Natalie Scott’s correspondence and that of several other friends of Spratling. In the French Quarter, the Historic New Orleans Collection, Le Petit Theatre du Vieux Carré, and the Faulkner House have holdings related to Spratling’s life. Thus, scholars are able to travel to one city and have access to numerous archival collections.

Margot Drawing for Enamel Pin #5894
Seated Pre-Columbian Figure
 Spratling-Taxco Collection

One of the most important reasons for placing the Mexican silver collection at Tulane University is its accessibility to scholars from all over the world. For many years, Latin American students have come to Tulane for their degrees. Today, the Richard E. Greenleaf Fellowships at the Latin American Library offer researchers who reside permanently in any Latin American or Caribbean country short-term residential fellowships to use the resources of the library and special collections at Tulane in order to conduct research in any field of the humanities or social sciences.
Drawing by Mary L. Davis for "Mexican Jewelry" 
 Spratling-Taxco Collection

The Spratling-Taxco Collection has now grown to include large numbers of design drawings by William Spratling, Margot van Voorhies, Frederick W. Davis, Sigfrido Pineda, Chato Castillo, Salvador Terán, and Estela Popowski. The collection also contains original photographs of the designers and their workshops and all of the videotaped and audiotaped interviews that I have done over the last 15 years.

The original illustrations by Mary Davis for the book Mexican Jewelry are at the Latin American Library, along with several drawings and lithographs by William Spratling for Little Mexico and Casa Mañana. The earliest Spratling drawing in the collection is the pen and ink with watercolor wash of “A Creole Courtyard in the Vieux Carré,” reproduced in Stanley Clisby Arthur’s, Old New Orleans.

The collection also contains books, folios, brochures, business cards, postcards, posters, catalogs, and articles that relate to the silver business in Taxco. Several significant treasures include the troquel (steel die) for a box Spratling produced right before his death for the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico, the troquel for Margot’s Geisha brooch, and a recent acquisition of a large group of photographs of Spratling taken in the 1960s.

Margot Fish Necklace
Silver, Enamels

Those who will benefit from a collection of this magnitude are scholars who are interested in researching crafts industries, micro-economics, marketing strategies, sociological implications of small-scale industrial development in the world marketplace, community development, use of pre-Columbian iconographic and stylistic motifs in Mexican silver, aesthetics and nationalism in modern Mexico and the influence of international stylistic movements, and the relationship between designer and artisan. The collection will also benefit collectors and dealers interested in questions of connoisseurship and authentication.
Los Castillo Pitcher
Silver, Stone, Brass

The Taxco silver phenomenon is unique. The jewelry and decorative objects conceived and produced in the workshops directed by William Spratling, Héctor Aguilar, and Antonio Castillo are without precedent. In one year alone, 1950, Los Castillo added 500 new designs to their inventory. It is almost beyond imagining. For this very reason, the Spratling-Taxco Collection has been established — to celebrate the work of these major designers as well as that of the great maestros, among them, Marcial Chávez, Filiberto Gómez, Jorge Ortíz, Luis Flores, and Julio Carvajal.

A handful of very talented young people, including Carmen Tapia and Miguel Angel Ortíz, are producing silver jewelry and objects, and the collection will continue to monitor this history in the making.

I have been most fortunate to have had a willing and enthusiastic partner in the director of the Latin American Library, Dr. Hortensia Calvo. We both feel that the collection should continue to grow. This effort must involve a large cast of participants, for there is much to celebrate and consider in this remarkable history. Therefore, if you know of any archival material that might relate to Mexican silver, please contact Dr. Calvo at

Article by Penny C. Morrill 

Photographs courtesy of Penny Morrill, Phyllis Goddard (, Jill Crawford collection, Marbeth Schon (

Web Design by Marbeth Schon

Your comments are invited. 


© copyright MODERN SILVER magazine, 2012