An Amer­i­can’s artistry with sil­ver made Mexico’s in­dus­try shine

The Washington Post Sunday - - GALLERIES | DIASPORA - BY CELIA WREN

The sil­ver jaguar car­ries six amethysts: one in each paw, and on its back and tail. The brooch is re­mark­able on its own mer­its, but as part of a new ex­hi­bi­tion at the Mex­i­can Cul­tural In­sti­tute, the jew­elry also epit­o­mizes the style of its de­signer, Wil­liam Spratling.

“Sil­ver on Sil­ver: Wil­liam Spratling, an Amer­i­can in Taxco” show­cases pieces that Spratling cre­ated in Taxco, in the Mex­i­can state of Guer­rero, where he lived for nearly four decades. Taxco, lo­cated in a re­gion once rich in sil­ver de­posits, was a his­toric min­ing hub, but by 1929, when Spratling moved there, the in­dus­try had fallen on hard times. The Amer­i­can-born de­signer and en­tre­pre­neur went on to make sil­ver pieces — in­clud­ing jew­elry and table­ware— inspired by lo­cal history, ge­ol­ogy, flora and fauna. He used in­dige­nous ma­te­ri­als, in­clud­ing amethysts, and re­worked mo­tifs such as the jaguar, which were com­mon in pre-Columbian art.

“He un­der­stood the con­text re­ally well,” said Ana Elena Mal­let of Mexico City, who cu­rated “Sil­ver on Sil­ver,” which is run­ning through Oct. 31 as part of the Mex­i­can Cul­tural In­sti­tute’s 25th-an­niver­sary fes­tiv­i­ties.

Spratling’s un­der­stand­ing of con­text was a nat­u­ral ex­ten­sion of his love af­fair with Mexico. He was born in Sonyea, N.Y., in 1900 and taught ar­chi­tec­ture at Tu­lane Univer­sity in New Or­leans as a young man. In 1926, a teach­ing gig took him to Mexico, where he met Diego Rivera and oth­erMex­i­can in­tel­lec­tu­als and artists. When Spratling set­tled in Taxco, he founded a sil­ver­work­ing work­shop that pro­duced high-qual­ity wares and trained lo­cal res­i­dents in skills re­lated to the in­dus­try. A num­ber of those ar­ti­sans started their own busi­nesses, mak­ing Taxco a ma­jor source of sil­ver pieces for the in­ter­na­tional mar­ket.

Tour­ing the “Sil­ver on Sil­ver” ex­hi­bi­tion re­cently, Mal­let pointed out the phases of Spratling’s de­sign ca­reer. Af­ter set­tling in Taxco, he cre­ated sil­ver ob­jects that re­flected lo­cal life and Mex­i­can flora and fauna, such as a sil­ver owl with ob­sid­ian eyes and a mon­key pa­per­weight. Later, Spratling’s work be­gan to echo pre-Columbian mo­tifs, an ap­proach that tied in with his col­lec­tion of pre-Columbian art.

The de­signer (who died in a car crash in 1967 at age 66) also went through a pe­riod of cre­at­ing pieces that were more so­phis­ti­cated and stream­lined, in­clud­ing a sil­ver-and-ebony Art Deco cof­fee set with tiny jaguars serv­ing as lid han­dles, and a set of can­dle­sticks with stems like clus­tered ten­drils.

The roughly 150 items in the “Sil­ver on Sil­ver” ex­hi­bi­tion also in­clude orig­i­nal blue­prints for some of Spratling’s de­signs; letters and other doc­u­ments; and never-ex­hib­ited pho­to­graphs of Spratling, who also was an avi­a­tor and writer.

Giv­ing Ger­man TV its due

In this era of stream­ing, it’s eas­ier than ever for ac­claimed tele­vi­sion shows to cross borders. But now they’re show­ing up in un­likely places. Case in point: This year’s Ber­lin In­ter­na­tional Film Fes­ti­val, which gave in­creased at­ten­tion to se­rial for­mats, screen­ing such shows as “Bet­ter Call Saul” and “Blood­line” as well as se­ries from Italy, Den­mark, Swe­den, Is­rael and Ger­many.

Sylvia Blume, cul­tural pro­grams co­or­di­na­tor at the Goethe-In­sti­tut Washington, took note of two Ger­man drama se­ries — “Blochin” and “Deutsch­land 83” — when she at­tended the Ber­lin fes­ti­val in Fe­bru­ary. The Goethe-In­sti­tut had suc­cess with its pop­u­lar 2014 screen­ings of the Ger­man se­ries “In the Face of the Crime (Im An­gesicht des Ver-brechens)”; fol­low-up pro­gram­ming was in or­der.

Ul­ti­mately, “Deutsch­land 83” was picked up in the United States by the Sun­dance chan­nel, which be­gan air­ing it this month. As for “Blochin: The Liv­ing and the Dead (Die Leben­den und die Toten),” the six-hour se­ries is be­ing screened at the Goethe-In­sti­tut on three suc­ces­sive Mon­days in July.

Di­rected by Matthias Glas­ner and set in con­tem­po­rary Ber­lin, “Blochin” is a moody crime thriller that— judg­ing by the pi­lot— is “The Wire” crossed with “The Shield.” The ti­tle char­ac­ter, a tough, mo­tor­cy­cle-rid­ing homi­cide de­tec­tive (Jürgen Vo­gel), finds him­self work­ing a mur­der that con­nects to lo­cal pol­i­tics and to his own crim­i­nal past. The case saps his time and energy just when he should be tend­ing to his sick wife (Maja Schöne). As Blochin ne­go­ti­ates in­creas­ingly com­plex deal­ings with po­lice col­leagues — in­clud­ing his dash­ing brother-in-law (Thomas Heinze) — and var­i­ous crooks, the line be­tween right and wrong ap­pears to van­ish.

Blume said Ger­man au­di­ences tra­di­tion­ally have been wary of TV story lines that arc over mul­ti­ple episodes. But given the suc­cess of long-form TV nar­ra­tives in the United States and else­where, she said, “some of the Ger­man chan­nels are try­ing to do some­thing, too.”


Wren is a free­lance writer. Sil­ver on Sil­ver: Wil­liam Spratling, an Amer­i­can in Taxco Through Oct. 31 at the Mex­i­can Cul­tural In­sti­tute, 2829 16th St. NW. Hours: Week­days from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Satur­days from noon to 4 p.m. Free.­sti­tu­te­ofmex­i­

Wil­liam Spratling, whose sil­ver de­signs were inspired by the history, ge­ol­ogy, flora and fauna of Mexico, is the fo­cus of an ex­hi­bi­tion at the Mex­i­can Cul­tural In­sti­tute.

Blochin: The Liv­ing and the Dead July 6, 13 and 20 at the Goethe-In­sti­tut Washington, 812 Sev­enth St. NW. In Ger­man with English sub­ti­tles. Tick­ets: $4-$7. 202-289-1200.


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