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Mexican Silver Jewellery Designers

18/02/2022 7538 0 1

           

WILLIAM SPRATLING

William Spratling a young American architect and Associate Professor arrived in Taxco, Mexico in 1926. After the Revolution in Mexico the country was focused on renewal and artists such as Diego Rivera , Juan O Gorman and Frida Khalo arrived in Taxco. Spratling became involved in the artistic community becoming friends with Rivera, and in 1926 he moved to Taxco permanently.  Inspired by the knowledge that most of the Mexican silver resources that had previously been mined had been exported and provided no benefit to the local communities , Sprating decided to open his own small silver workshop (or Taller) . It was named the Taller de Las Delicias  after the street on which he lived. He recruited six young apprentices including Antonio Castillos and his brothers. Spratling had knowledge of Pre-Columbian and Mesoamerican art from his years at University and this had a strong influence on his early silver jewellery and flatware designs. Aztec and Pre Columbian motifs featured strongly in his work. Spratling was the principle designer for his workshop and was insistent about using only high quality materials and production techniques . His work was influential and marked a new era for Mexican silver design.  Artist drew on their own Mexican Heritage as inspiration for their work, as opposed to previous European influences. Spratling came to be known as the “Father of Mexican Silver”.

   

Above: L to R William Sprating  silver and amethyst bracelet and silver and amethyst jaguar necklace and brooch circa 1940's

The earliest pieces produced in the workshop were heavy silver belt buckles and  simple dome earrings. Over time the workshop grew in numbers, and towards the end of the 1930’s Spratling  was employing several hundreds of people His designs often featured Pre-Columbian motifs such as balls, discs, ropes and strap,s as well as real or mythical animals. They had deeply carved sinous lines with strong light and dark contrasts. Native materials such as amethyst, turquoise, abalone, coral and rosewood were used. His output included all kinds of jewellery and flatware. These were sold to visitors to the Taxco work shop, and in the late 1930’s to America through arrangements  with American department stores such as Neiman Marcus, and Saks Fifth Avenue.

   

Above: L to R William Sprating mixed metal necklace 1940's and silver cuff bracelet 

Well known and acclaimed Mexican silversmiths including Antonio Pineda, Hector Aguilar, Valentine Vidauretti and Antonio Castillos all spent some time in their careers working at Spratlings workshop .Spratlings earliest designs were marked with a simple interlocking “ WS”. After 1938 he began using a “WS” within a circle with a “Spratling Made in Mexico” around it.

Spratlings later work became more abstract,  linear , and refined. Pieces from around 1950 were marked with a simple WS. In the 1960’s Spratling produced a series of gold jewellery set with Pre Columbian stones. Each piece of jewellery was unique and was marked with a plain “WS” beneath “18K”.

VALENTIN VIDAURETTA

Valentin Vidauretta was a Mexican aristocrat who enjoyed expressing his creativity through a variety of different mediums. He was an amateur architect, an artist, and horticulturist. After 1935 he became an established silver jewellery designer.

During the 1930’s Vidaurette was painting and exhibiting his work in both the United States and Mexico. He staged a successful exhibition in a prominent Chicago art gallery, and presented a series of murals at the Mexican Village of the Century of Progress fair. He also illustrated several books such as “Fiesta in Mexico” where his illustrations reflected different festivals in the country. In 1935 Vidauretta was living in at his two acre ranch on the outskirts of Taxco, Mexico and in 1936 his artistic abilities were translated into his most significant work, the design of silver jewellery.

   

Above: L to R Valenti Vidauretta silver cuff bracelet and silver necklace

His first jewellery workshop was established in Mexico City at the Callejon de San Ignacio . He produced large cuff bracelets, many floral brooches, and naturalistic flower belt ensembles with matching pins. Most of his jewellery designs had floral themes. A belt buckle comprised of two large silver doves was one of the few non floral designs. His work was sold to Fred Davis at Sanborn’s, the Mexico city department store. Valentin was signing his work with “Valentin” or “V.V “ and the pieces would also have the Sanborn mark.

Antonio Pineda briefly joined Valentin’s workshop in 1941 after completing his education at Technical school. It is thought that the baroque elements of Valentin’s work may have inspired Pineda to focus on larger size jewellery and silver sculpture as Valentin was at the time producing large size jewellery.  For the years from 1941 to 1952 Valentin was mainly designing for Hector Aguilara’s Taller Borda. The jewellery he produced was brought into Aguilar’s workshop and stamped with “HA”. He also made some pieces which were stamped with his own signature during this time. Jewellery  signed “Valentin”  and having an eagle stamp were pieces dating from after 1948. At Hector Aguilar’s workshop he was more than just an independent silversmith and more of a business associate. He received a commission for every piece he sold and was sometimes involved in sales.

Much of Valentin’s work displayed  his love of the flowers and vegetation he admired in the mountains around Taxco. His silver  jewellery work featured naturalist flowers, repousse work, baroque three dimensional forms and a general liveliness of expression. In the early 1950’s he retired to spend time on his gardens and orchids.  before his death in 1955.


HECTOR AGUILAR 

Hector Aguilar had worked as a tourist guide to various  parts of Mexico before settling in Taxco, Mexico His wife Lois Cart-wright was an  American widow he had met while working as a guide. He was hired by William Spratling in 1937 to work as manager of the Las Delicias  silver workshop. Two years later he left to form his own workshop the Taller Borda. Several silversmiths left to work with him, these included Pedro and Juan Castillo, Salvador Garcia, and Pedro Castillo. Pedro Castillo worked at the Taller Borda for nine years, later becoming a workshop manager. In 1948 Castillo established a workshop at his own home. He signed his work with “PC”. The C was situated below a half circle of the letter Pedro Castillo made silver flatware and jewellery of all kinds. He went on to have 13 silversmiths working in his studio and sold his products at the Rancho Alegre, which in the 1960’s and 70’s was the largest silver shop in Taxco.

      

Above: L to R Hector Aguilar silver necklace and bracelet

Hector Aguilar was the principle designer for the jewellery he signed but much of his workshop’s output  were elaborate floral pieces designed by Valentin Vidaurette. who collaborated with Aguilar from 1941 to 1955. After Hector and his wife restored the Borda Palace in Taxco it became the main location for all aspects of his silver business including the silver tin and copper workshops, the carpentry shop and retail store.  During World War 11 an important financial partner for Aguilar was Gerald Rosenberg, who was co owner of the American jewellery company Coro.  Rosenberg bought the Borda Palace and together with Aguilar developed a mechanical operation to produce military insignia and silver jewellery. The Taller Borda made sterling silver bombardier badges and hand made indentification bracelets for aviators which signed CORO.  Coro-Mexico developed a Taxco line of silver jewellery which were produced at the Borda workshop. Some of the pieces were made using earier designs of Hector Aguilar and Valentin Vidaurette.  This partnership lasted around 5 years . During this time the Borda workshop made hundreds of bracelets, necklaces, earrings, and brooches signed CORO-Mexico.

During world war 11 the Borda workshop grew to over 300 artisans and moved into an additional building down the street. Demand was high and Aguilar had contracts to make jewellery for the American department stores Neiman Marcus, Saks Fifth Avenue , and Gumps to name but a few. After the war demand for Mexican jewellery in the USA fell. The number of artisans at the Borda workshop gradually reduced until 1966 when Hector Aguilar finally closed the business.  Aguilar  had designed a large variety of items over years  including tea sets, chess sets, light fittings and mirrors amongst others . His jewellery designs were inspired mainly by Aztec and Mixtec architecture and art. Ancient motifs were stylised and repeated creating strong simple designs. The tropical flowers which grew around Taxco were strong design sources, with the flowers being carefully reproduced in silver. Names were given to each of the designs created in the workshop. Aguilar was known for his technically brilliant and dramatic jewellery designs.

ANTONIO PINEDA

Antonio Pineda was born in Taxco, Mexico in 1919 . He went on to become one of Taxco’s leading silversmiths winning various awards for his jewellery and silverware. As a youngster he entered the art school of Tamichi Kitagawa. The school  named the “ Open Air School of Mexico” had been established by Kitagawa a Japanese artist living in Mexico as part of the educational reform after the Mexican Revolution. He spent time studying painting and popular arts under the artists David Alfaro, Alfredo Zalce and the sculptor Martin Pineda. In 1934 he joined William Spratling’s Taller de Las Delicias silver workshop. He spent several months studying in Mexico city under the guidance of Valentin Vidauretta before going on to open his own shop in 1941.

From Spratling’s workshop he gained an appreciation of Pre Columbian art and culture, and achieved technical proficiency. From Vidauretta he focused on creating representations of nature in silver and learned how to work on a large scale.

              

Above: L to R Antonio Pineda onyx and silver necklace  and amethyst and silver necklace 1955


In 1944 Pineda’s name and reputation were launched when he was asked to take part in an international exposition in San Francisco. He present a collection of eighty works in silver all of which was bought by Gump’s the American department store.. This relationship continued over the years. Gumps’s would send stones and Pineda would design and produce the jewellery settings.

Other partnerships followed this and Pineda went on to exhibt his work internationally in Los Angeles, New York, Paris, London, Rome, and Amsterdam. In 1953 the first National Silver Fair was held, where Pineda received the Presidential Prize for technical and artistic merit of his work. He won the same award again in 1959.

By 1956 Pineda had established a large operation with two different workshops for sculpture and jewellery. He had over 160 people working for him with the jewellery being designed in sets comprising a necklace , bracelet, and earrings.

Pineda was know for his dramatic large size jewellery with imaginative use of gems. He technical expertise and imaginative approach enabled him to  created beautiful sculptural silver jewellery which was admired the world over.

Over the course of his  long career Pineda used four different marks . These were “AP” in a circle, “Silver by Tono”, “Jewels by Antonio”, and  “Antonio, Taxco” with crown. In the early years he used 980 silver. He has been known to use 925 silver but the majority of his work used 970 silver

In November 1988 he was very proud  to established a silver Museum in Taxco - this was dedicated to all the generations of Mexican silversmiths. He died in 2009 at the age of 90. 

VICTORIA ANA-NUNEZ BRILANTI 

In her early career Ana Brilanti taught drawing, painting and fine arts in a Mexico City school for manual and industrial arts. After her marriage she moved to Taxco, Mexico due to her husbands work with the government. Ana and her husband decided to become involved in the silver business.  In 1940 they rented a place and launched their business named “Victoria”.  The couple hired  two silversmiths and they alongside Ana began training a group of young boys. This became the foundations of the silver workshop.

           


Ana Brilanti’s jewellery designs gained recognition when her workshop and silver jewellery was mentioned in a Guide to Mexico in 1946. The quality of her work was excellent and she was know for her use of mixed metals . She achieved contrast in her designs by combining four different metals, silver, tin, copper and nickel. Creating jewellery pieces this way was labour intensive as the metals had to be soldered several times in a specific order to a prevent melting of the previously competed work. He technical excellent and quest for perfection could be seen in the invisible seams in her work with mixed metals. Her Victoria workshop was best known for silver on copper. The workshop produced various items including boxes, tea sets, pitchers , lamps, and jewellery such as necklaces, bracelets, earrings, and brooches.  She took inspiration from nature and Mexican history to produced stylised renderings of animals, fish and flowers in the natural world, and her own interpretation of Pre Columbian artefacts and architectural detail.  Her silver jewellery work was done in repousse, or detailed with piercings or with incised lines, markings and patterns made with small metal punches and a hammer.  The  Victoria workshop only used 980 silver (almost pure silver) even though it was marked 925 to comply with Mexican law. One technique mastered at the Victoria workshop before any of the other silver workshops was electroplating.  Ana’s husband taught himself the electroplating process by reading manuals from America. In the mid 1970’s tourism numbers in Mexico began to decrease. This had a great effect on most of the silver workshop and Ana closed the Victoria shop in 1975.

BERNICE GOODSPEED

Bernice Goodspeed arrived in Mexico in 1930 and studied Pre Columbian art at the University of Mexico. She worked a tour guide for two of the largest touring companies of the time Cooks Tours and Wells Fargo where she provided accurate archaeological information to tourists at archaelogical sites. She met her husband Carl Pape, and artist at a party in Mexico City in 1935. The two then moved to Taxco, Mexico. Bernice started out designing clothes but then along with her husband Carl the two decided to opened a small silver workshop. Bernice was the principle designer at the workshop. It was also a place where Carl also displayed his paintings and scupture. Due to the increased demand for Mexican silver during World Two the workshop expanded quickly growing to around 20 silversmiths. It was a popular place for visitors due to the combination of silver ware, and paintings

                

 

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