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 A  N  T  O  N  I  O      P  I  N  E  D  A

b y   P a t r i c k   K a p t y

Antonio Pineda, the legendary Mexican modernist jewelry designer, was recently in the LA area for the MALDEF (Mexican American Legal Defense Fund) fundraising auction. Not only had Antonio given several of his own designs for the auction, but he had also been chosen to design and present a gift to the newly-elected President of Mexico, President Vicente Fox. Two days later, I met with Antonio at his hotel in Santa Monica for the following interview.

Interview with Antonio Pineda 11/11/2000

Antonio Pineda and sons

please find questions by Patrick Kapty on the left and and replies by Antonio on the right



Antonio, please start with a bit about your family history. Can you tell me where you were born, and a little bit about your family background?

I'm very happy that you ask about my family. My grandfather was a teacher in Taxco, and a musician. He played every instrument, the violin, the guitar of course, but his favorite instrument was the harp. My mother's father was a sculptor, and her uncle was a silversmith. This is important, before Spratling, in Taxco, you could find only one silver shop since I was 6 to 7 years old. They did all kinds of silver work, religious silver, the charro suits - with the silver buckles all up and down the pants. Then, in 1928, Spratling arrived in Taxco.

He was writing a book for someone in New York or New Orleans, and was supposed to be in Taxco for one week or so, but he never went back.

sterling scroll ring

sterling candlesticks

sterling & amethyst bracelet

Yes, that's the story.
So, in 1933 he opened his own shop, with myself as his first apprentice. Spratling lit the fuse for the whole modern Mexican silver movement in Taxco. A small group of silversmiths were formed by the hammer of the Spratling shop, the Castillos, Ledesma, myself, and Chino Ruiz, and in 1940-42 we were able to consolidate the modern Mexican silver. My first exhibition here in the US was thanks to Gumps in San Francisco.

sterling ring with tiger-eye

sterling & tiger-eye bracelet

When was that, what year?
In 1945 or '46. I had my first exhibition thanks to Gumps, that was in Taxco. I had a very small collection, only 60 or 70 pieces  but, I remember how excited this man was, this gentleman. He was a very important man here in the state of California, Richard Gump, his father was the founder of the shop in San Francisco.

sterling & turquoise pendant

sterling bracelet with moonstones

Yes, they have a long history of contributing to the arts and culture here in California.

Yes, that's correct. So, I thought he was just joking when he wanted to show my collection. He said, "You have a big future, I can see it clearly". I didn't know who I was talking to.  He wanted me to go to San Francisco to exhibit. I thought he was just talking, you know, but I was a bit surprised about 8 to 10 months after, ( this was in '45), and his people said, "Antonio, Antonio, be ready in May", this was in February, "because you have an exhibition in the Palace of the Legion of Honor in San Francisco". It was quite an experience because I had to finish my collection. This was my first exhibition.

And you already had your own workshop at this point, right?
Just two or three people
Just two or three assistants?
The main story starts after the exhibition --Margaret de Patta, Georg Jensen, they got two windows each, I got eight!
You're kidding! Really? Margaret de Patta, Georg Jensen, and Antonio Pineda all in the same show?
Yes, in the same show, back in 1946. I still have some clippings from the San Francisco papers talking about the future that would be waiting for me --highly promising, opening a new door for me. Gumps bought the whole collection.
They bought the whole collection? 60 or 70 pieces you said?
Yes. In those days, as until now, the place is very famous for specializing in Oriental art and stones Chineseso after, before I left San Francisco, Richard Gump and Mark Rosenblatt, the vice president of the company, said, "Antonio, here is something for you to keep occupied" It was a large collection of gems, oriental gems, jades, obsidian, oriental, just from China. Every design I made for a number of years was for Gumps--kept me busy.I had eight to ten silversmiths to help me then I am not too happy to tell you that since my hand I am not too busy myself, but design, design is what I do.

There was a tremendous demand for Antonio Pineda silver of course, designing is always my direction, but also to invent techniques. I have to tell you that in silver I invented three techniques. Not only to design, I remember, on the paper not only to design, but to make it in reality.

two modern rings

Tell me about these techniques.

They would say that this couldn't be done. I am a silversmith as well as a designer, and when they tell me we can't work on a piece with this design, I say OK, let's make it this design, this other way. For instance, last night I was with some friends, and I was so happy to see some of my old designs. I didn't even remember some of them. There were two or three pieces that I saw.  I said, you see the particular solution of this piece, what I was able to finish?

sterling creamer and sugar

Tell me about the silver contest you organized in Taxco.

In 1953, in a meeting of silversmiths, they decided to ask me to organize another silver contest in Taxco. I had a great idea that I thought of, .let's organize the first national silver contest in Taxco. So , I called some friends. I said I have this idea for a national silver contest with the award given by the President of Mexico-- a festival of silver in Taxco. I had several friends, all famous, artists, historians, writers and their relations with the President were very good. They called the President. Mr. President Cortine she was very excited. This is the thing my government does to stimulate the industry in Taxcoand it came about. Mexico is the first producer of silver in the world, and I added to myself after that not only is Mexico the largest producer of silver, but Taxco also produces silversmiths, some of the best in the world!

sterling and amethyst "bullets" bracelet

Let me also ask you, you worked for Valentin Vidauretta in Mexico City early on in your career, right?

I'm happy you asked me about something that really matters to mehe designed for Spratling and himself, but much else too. He was also a painter, an artist, and an architect, and had a silver shop. It was a very exclusive shop.

This was before 1953, going back to around 1949, I think.

Valentin Vidauretta was the one that stimulated me to develop my designing, it wasn't easy later to develop my own style--my first step it was not easy for me. So, Valentin opened his shop in Mexico City, and that was when I went to work for him. Another important thing to mention, besides being an architect, he rescued the old baroque haciendas in Taxco--he restored them--the hacienda of Hector Aguilar, of Senor Greenand, and many others.

sterling boomerang bracelet

Preserving the historical heritage?
Yes, when you come to Taxco you'll see my rancho, it's very baroque.
Antonio, there's a lot of little things I wanted to ask you, you know small things like hallmarks, because a lot of collectors want to know about the various hallmarks used on your jewelry and objects over the years. On a lot of your jewelry there are double letter marks along with numbers, and my understanding is that these refer to the jewelry form, ie bracelet, ring etc. Is that correct?

sterling & onyx bracelet

Yes, it's to identify the piece as well as the design. Different letters for the type of piece, like rings and bracelets, yes.

So you used ZZ
And YY
What was YY for?
YY was for pins, I believe. I saw a piece with that mark last night. I was very excited to see some pre-Columbian pieces last night as I was inspired by the pre-Columbian silversmiths. Cortez was a barbarian! He destroyed so much. He took an extraordinary collection, and melted it.

Antonio Pineda crown mark

sterling & tortoise bracelet

One of your early marks was 'Silver by Tono'?
Yes, that was the earliest mark, then 'Silver by Antonio', then the crown mark.
Another question, Antonio, I've seen contemporary jewelry with a mark very similar to yours, it's a crown mark, but instead of having Antonio across the top, it reads Pineda. Who is this?
Yes, that's one of my brothers. He knows now that he can't do that, but he did use it for a while. It's going to be ended.

sterling cuff bracelets

sterling disc & sphere bracelet

I'm glad to hear that because some of the pieces were very similar to your designs, and with that mark it was confusing. When you were young and first started out, who did you look up to?

sterling, copper, & onyx buckle

As I said earlier, Vidauretta was a great influence, also Spratling. It took me a long time to develop my own style apart from these influences.

You mentioned that you did the Legion of Honor show in San Francisco, and that the two others were Margaret de Patta, and the jewelry of Georg Jensen. Did you know very many of the American or Scandinavian jewelry designers?

copper and sterling buckle

No, not really. I met Margaret de Patta only once at a party for the show.
So you didn't meet any others?
But were you exposed to any of their work at all?
Not really.
What do you think about Taxco today, and the state of design in silver there?
I'm sorry to say that there is not much good in Taxco today. Most of the great ones have already passed away. I feel a tremendous responsibility now. I've been very lazy over the last 18 years or so, so, for the new millenium I am trying to take on new projects to spur new directions.

You're opening your new workshop in Taxco?and you're starting to work again? What directions are you going in today
Extremely modern. I don't want to repeat old designs, but many people ask me to, the collectors. I'm working on a lot of sculpture.

sterling "bird cage" bracelet

sterling & tortoise bracelet

Are you going larger or smaller scale, and what materials are you using?
I'm concentrating on sculpture, and it depends on the piece.
Where will people be able to see your new work?

Through my museum, and my workshop in Taxco. Some of my pieces were here for the MALDEF auction two days ago.

Also on view at my museum are pieces by other silversmiths that I've been able to rescue, over 48 prize-winning pieces.

Thank you very much for your time today, Antonio.


Thank you.

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Article by Patrick Kapty
“Patrick Kapty California Dreamin Retro Modern”
(760) 671-4879

photographs courtesy of  Jill Crawford and Patrick Kapty

Web design by Marbeth Schon

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