Silversmithing has been practiced for centuries in Mexico. In fact, Mexican silversmiths taught the Navajo of the Southwestern United States their trade. But it took an American named William Spratling to see the opportunity to build on this legacy. He did this in 1931, when he established a retail outlet for Mexican jewelry near the silver-mining center of Taxco.
Spratling’s designs borrowed liberally from pre-Columbian motifs found on Mexico’s pyramids and lifted from the 14th-century symbols that fill the Codex Zouche-Nuttal. It was open-source material, if you will, so it shouldn’t be too surprising that as his shop succeeded and imitators sprang up nearby, the designs themselves were appropriated.
Some competitors were actively encouraged. In fact, the Taxco School, as it is known today, was formed largely from former Spratling employees such as the Castillo brothers, Héctor Aguilar, Antonio Pineda, and Valentin Viadurreta, who brought a Mexican eye to Art Deco. Naturally, these artisans and their shops became incubators for still more generations of silversmiths.
For those who could not make the trip to Taxco, U.S. stores took the step of importing these popular goods. At one point everyone from fashionable Gump’s in San Francisco to Montgomery Ward in Chicago carried silver jewelry (some decorated with obsidian or amethysts) and tableware by Taxco designers.