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 William Spratling  (1901 - 1967)

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Lived/Active: New York / Mexico      Known for: Craftsman, designer

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Biography from The Columbus Museum of Art, Georgia:
William Spratling was born to an Alabama-bred father and a New England mother in 1900 in upstate New York, where his father ran a hospital for epileptics.  His parents were usually in poor health, apparently unstable, and were often separated.(1)

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, Lucille.  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 split up; each went to live 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.  Spratling demonstrated an early talent for drawing, and at Auburn, he developed it to the point that he found himself lecturing as an undergraduate in courses in the architecture department.  In 1921 he left Auburn (without a degree) and shortly afterward took a position as associate professor of architecture at Tulane. He rented an apartment in the French Quarter with William Faulkner.  His circle of acquaintances in New Orleans included Lyle Saxon, Hamilton Basso, and Sherwood Anderson, artists Caroline Durieux and Ellsworth Woodward, and the circle around the little magazine, The Double Dealer.

Spratling visited Mexico for the first time in 1926. He returned for summers over the next several years, and in 1929, moved there where he became active in the artistic community.  At first, his work was spent in promoting the art of Diego Rivera among New York galleries.  This 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.  Dwight Morrow, the US Ambassador to Mexico, suggested to Spratling in 1931 that he initiate a craft center in Taxco, which had been the site of silver mines for centuries.  He soon hired an experienced goldsmith from Iguala who moved to Taxco and created silver jewelry of Spratling’s design.  Other artisans joined this shop and produced tin ware, copper items, textiles and furniture - all designed by Spratling.  In 1935, Spratling's success warranted a move to a larger shop near the plaza, which he called "Taller de las Delicias." Tourism was expanding and there was widespread enthusiasm for Spratling designs of both jewelry and his hollowware.  He had 120 employees in 1941, and was selling silver not only in Mexico, but also in the U.S. to Neiman-Marcus, Bonwit Teller, Saks Fifth Avenue and others.  In June 1944, the company - now called Spratling y Artesanos S.A. - moved to Hacienda de La Florida, an abandoned hacienda near the arches at the northern entrance to the town. Spratling had earlier arranged to have a large bronze bell cast, and this new bell was mounted on the roof of the new taller building.  Approximately 400 workers were now producing Spratling Silver.  Lack of sufficient capital and the involvement of the new investors caused Spratling to resign from the company in 1945, and soon thereafter, the company dissolved.

Spratling moved in 1945 to a ranch he had purchased in Taxco-el-Viejo, and in 1947, he formed a new silver workshop called William Spratling, S.A. located at the ranch.  His production was reduced significantly from those levels of the early and mid 1940's.  Designs of this period display a greater simplicity and refinement from Spratling's earlier work.  Spratling was called "a Renaissance Man."  Although embittered about the lack of financial success of his company and his resignation from his company in the mid-1940s, he continued to pursue designs and development in Taxco-el-Viejo, the village where he moved to after the break-up of Spratling y Artisanos. 

His influence and fame endures.  Throughout Mexico, he still 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.  Tragically, William Spratling was killed on August 7, 1967 in an automobile accident just outside Taxco.
Footnotes:
1. My thanks to Phyllis Goddard for much of this biographical information on William Spratling. Also, consulted were Taylor D. Littleton’s text, The Color of Silver: William Spratling, His Life and Art (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2000), and Joan Mark, The Silver Gringo: William Spratling and Taxco (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2000).
Submitted by the Staff of the Columbus Museum

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