Tag Archives: silver

A Day with Silver Icon William Spratling and Heir Violante Ulrich in Taxco, Mexico

William Spratling died in 1967 but his legacy lives on through the efforts of Violante Ulrich and her sister Consuelo. Their father, Alberto Ulrich, was a close Spratling friend and supporter. They drove race cars together along the narrow winding roads connecting Taxco with the Pacific beach resort of Acapulco. Ulrich took over the Spratling enterprise then to keep it going and his daughters are also committed to this.


There are few remaining silversmiths in Taxco from that era. All the shops whose mast-head bear the names of the famous masters such as Los Castillos, Antonio Pineda and Enrique Ledesma are now mostly filled with production pieces. Very little is still made by hand. (There is one Taxco shop called Hecho a Mano that makes excellent reproductions of significant pieces.)

In production, silver fish with ebony, a favorite Spratling jewelry hardwood

I made arrangements with Violante to spend a day with her in Taxco during our recent folk art study tour. Silver is to Mexico what rebozos are, too. Part of this country’s cultural identity. So, seeing the Spratling home Las Delicias where he first lived and worked was an essential part of this experience.

Rafa melting 925 parts silver and 75 parts copper

Rafa melting 925 parts silver and 75 parts copper to make 925 jewelry

I remember visiting the Spratling silver galleries in Taxco in the early 1970’s. I was young and couldn’t afford much. Even then, Spratling was a legend. There were many beautiful pieces for sale in the showroom on the plaza. I managed to buy a small chain for $35 USD — a big sum then —  and still have it!

Sterling silver flatware with rosewood, $1,000 USD a place setting

Sterling silver flatware with rosewood, $1,000 USD a place setting

Taxco is about a two-hour drive from Tenancingo, so it made sense to me to schedule this as a day trip. When we arrived, we had breakfast at S’Caffecito prepared by Violante and her staff, got a tour of the house, galleries and and rooftop terrace overlooking the church.


Above left, Violante with a Marilyn Monroe chair. Right, the Spratling monkey.

1950's vintage Spratling owl pin with amethyst eyes

1950’s vintage Spratling owl pin with amethyst eyes

Then, we got in the van and drove to Taxco El Viejo on the road to Iguala, where Spratling later built his ranch. He did this for many reasons. He wanted privacy and a workshop away from the hovering eyes of other Taxco silversmiths who began to copy his work.

Spratling workshop, just as it was then

Spratling workshop, just as it was then. Antonio demonstrates.

It was amazing to be in this space where all the equipment used now was the same as it was then.

The beginning of the owl pin with the amethyst eyes.

The beginning of the owl pin with the amethyst eyes.

The jewelry molds are exactly as they were, and skilled craftsmen are creating silver flatware inlaid with rosewood, pins, necklaces, bracelets and earrings in the same gauge metal and quality that William Spratling used.

Annealing the silver owl pin that will have amethyst eyes

Annealing the silver owl pin that will have amethyst eyes

Not much has changed, thankfully, except that the next generation of Spratling silversmiths include Violante and Consuelo who have registered a new stamp with the Mexican government and also design and produce their own work.


We toured the workshops and met silversmiths Antonio and Rafael who demonstrated the process to make Spratling’s famous owl pin with the amethyst eyes. We saw the original molds, examples of Spratling’s original work and the pieces made today that are for sale. (Of course, there was lots to try on.)

We saw the chairs that Spratling designed for Marilyn Monroe that went undelivered because of her suicide.


How did they know this? Margarita Gonzales, the accountant, kept impeccable records, and when Alberto Ulrich found the stash of chairs tucked away in a closet, he knew exactly where to look to track the provenance.

Old iron nails kept for furniture restoration projects

Old iron nails kept for furniture restoration projects

After a tour of the ranch and the workshops, we settled in for a delicious lunch under the corridor next to the kitchen. We talked about beauty, history, Spratling’s love of red, white and blue ornamentation that represented to him the colors of melting silver. We saw pre-Columbian sculpture and folk art figures from Spratling’s personal collection.


A day with Violante Ulrich is a rich experience by which to understand the lore and history of Taxco silver making and the life of William Spratling. She is an artful cook, outstanding silversmith, great host and dedicated to preserving the ranch which is in need of restoration. We were fortunate to spend this time with her.

At the end of the afternoon there was enough independent time to explore the steep cobbled hill town, go into the church and search for more silver treasures before heading back to Tenancingo.


A surprise awaited us! In the church was sculptor Miguel D. Sobrino who created the silver Virgin of Guadalupe that stands beside the altar encased in protective glass. Except today, Our Lady had been removed from her case and was being thoroughly cleaned to prepare her for a move to the Basilica de Guadalupe in Mexico City to greet Pope Francis.


We enjoyed lots of views — from the Las Delicias rooftop garden and the terrace overlooking the central plaza. For some on the study tour, this trip to Taxco was a dream come true. I hadn’t been back for 44 years until last September. I’m looking forward to the next time. I hope you can come with me.

Ten wonderful women on the February 2016 study tour on the Spratling terrace

Ten wonderful women + me, February 2016 study tour on the Spratling terrace

I will be organizing this rebozo study tour for mid-September 2016 to coincide with the Tenancingo rebozo fair. There will be a few modifications in the itinerary we just completed but the trip to Taxco is set in stone! Please tell me if you are interested. Get on the notification list!


If you want to take a silver jewelry making workshop at the Spratling Ranch, please contact Violante directly. She is also starting a B&B there, so there are some accommodations. The ranch is in need of restoration so please support her efforts in any way you can. It’s an important part of Mexican history. Thank you!





Brigitte Huet, Kandart Sterling Silver Jewelry Sale

This is a show and sale for 10 pieces of Kandart sterling silver jewelry made in Oaxaca, Mexico, by French silversmith Brigitte Huet and her husband Ivan Campant.

Bracelet, slide clasp, 7" long x 2" wide. $665 USD plus shipping + insurance

Bracelet, slide clasp, 7″ long x 2″ wide. $665 USD plus shipping + insurance

The one-of-a-kind pieces are the last remaining for sale from the Oaxaca collection.

26" pendant, $595 USD plus shipping + insurance

26″ pendant, $595 USD plus shipping + insurance

Many of them were made 15 and 20 years ago and put away as keepsakes that Brigitte and Ivan have now decided to sell. This may be your last opportunity to buy these unique collector pieces.

If you want something, please choose quickly, then contact me by email and include your mailing address with ZIP Code. I will send you a PayPal invoice for the piece plus shipping and insurance at the sale value.

Brigitte and Ivan thank you and send best wishes.

They left Oaxaca in early 2014 to return to southern France. They are living in a small village near Toulouse, creating new wax carved designs that will be made in limited editions with silver casting as soon as they are able to move to a house that will accommodate a working studio. Meanwhile, Brigitte continues to develop new ideas, most recently implemented in wood sculpture, too.

Eagle bracelet, small is 6-1/2" x 2", $550. Longer is 7-5/8" x 2", $600.

Eagle bracelet, small is 6-1/2″ x 2″, $550. Longer is 7-5/8″ x 2″, $600.

Bracelet, 6-7/8" long x 1" wide, $445.

Bracelet, 6-7/8″ long x 1″ wide, $445.

17" long necklace, 1/4-1/2" wide, $295 USD

17″ long necklace, 1/4-1/2″ wide, $295 USD16" necklace, $335  necklace, $335, 16″ long

Eagle pendant, 3-1/2"long x 1-5/8" wide, $245.

Eagle pendant, 3-1/2″long x 1-5/8″ wide, $245.

Pendant, 2-3/4" long x 1-5/8" wide, $250.

Pendant, 2-3/4″ long x 1-5/8″ wide, $275.

Lady Pendant, 3-1/4" long x 2-1/4" wide, $275.

Lady Pendant, 3-1/4″ long x 2-1/4″ wide, $300.

How to order: First send me an email.

  1. Tell me which piece you want.
  2. Tell me your mailing address with ZIP Code
  3. Tell me if you want insurance for the full value of your purchase.
  4. Order and pay by Monday, June 2: I will ship from California.
  5. Order and pay after June 2: I will ship from California after July 9.
  6. I will send you a PayPal invoice for the amount of the piece(s) and add shipping and insurance to the total.
  7. Upon payment, I will ship within one day if order received by June 2, 2015.

P.S. I have no earrings or rings from Brigitte to offer for sale at this time.

Bilbao Reunion with Brigitte Huet, Silversmith and Jeweler

Our reunion with artist, jeweler, silversmith and dear friend Brigitte S. Huet has been in the making for over a year when Barbara and I first planned to visit Spain. Brigitte and her husband Ivan returned to France in early 2014 after making Oaxaca their home and creative inspiration for over 20 years. We miss them.

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So, we made a meet-up plan for Bilbao, which is about four hours by car from the Toulouse area where they now live, to visit the Guggenheim Museum together.


Barbara asked Brigitte to bring a trunk show of collector pieces she had created in the early years. We spent time looking at designs we had never seen before that had been tucked away in Brigitte’s treasure chest in France. They included belt buckles, deeply carved silver beads, pendents, rings, necklaces, earrings and bracelets.

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Some of these, mostly necklaces and bracelets, are now available for sale. I have them with me and I will be posting photos and prices soon.

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We reminisced, drank good red wine, ate stinky unpasteurized cheese, walked and giggled. It was wonderful to be with Brigitte again. They have not produced jewelry since returning to France.

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There is no place where they live now to set up a casting studio. But, Brigitte has carved wax designs in preparation for what comes next and she has been carving wood, too. The creative life continues.


Enviando besos y abrazos de Brigitte y Ivan de Francia.  Sending kisses and hugs from Brigitte and Ivan from France.



More About Mexico City: Museums

For the past week, before returning today to North Carolina for knee replacement surgery next week, I have been in Mexico City where some of the world’s best museums are found. I added on two days on my own before we started our fifth Looking for Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo Art History Study Tour this year!

Highlights to share with you:

At the Franz Mayer Museum there is a special exhibition of the collection of Ruth Lechuga’s folk art collection. A physician and photographer, Ruth Lechuga left Vienna, Austria with her family at age eighteen to escape the Holocaust. Mexican people and their creativity became her passion. (Mexico received many who sought asylum when the United States closed its doors.)

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In another exhibit hall at the Franz Mayer Museum is the art of TANE, the Mexico City silver and gold jewelry and design studio. Their bench artists have been working in precious metals since 1942.

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What is not to admire? Even Oaxaca’s great artist Francisco Toledo has worked with TANE to design this extraordinary silver fish that you see above.

2014MuseumsB-83 2014MuseumsB-86          In addition to contemporary jewelry designs, TANE creates traditional hammered and woven silver pieces, like this exceptional hammered rooster chandelier, above left.  This is an extraordinary exhibition if you love the history of silver and silversmithing in Mexico. And, if you want to shop, there’s a TANE boutique at El Palacio de Hierro, Mexico City’s great department store, just a block from the Zocalo in the historic center of town. Pay attention to the Tiffany glass ceiling there, too.

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The courtyard patio of the Franz Mayer Museum offers a lovely respite for espresso, sweets and good sandwiches, plus a perfect venue for a fashion photo shoot where amazing posters of social and political commentary from around the world hang.

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We packed it in that day. Our next stop was to see the collection at the Soumaya Museum and the Jumex Museum in the wealthy Polanco district of Mexico City. These are both private museums owned by family foundations. The collections range from classical to contemporary.

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We were blown away by the extent of the Soumaya Museum’s collection of Rodin and Dali bronze sculptures, and a floor devoted to Sophia Loren in Mexico.

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Photos above show museum architecture and the office complex backdrop. This is not far from Chapultepec Park where we returned the next day to immerse ourselves in the art at the Rufino Tamayo Museum (the BEST museum store in the city, IMHO) and where we saw the temporary exhibition of Japanese-American artist Yayoi Kusama.



Then, on to the Museum of Modern Art that houses Frida Kahlo’s The Two Fridas and Diego Rivera’s portrait of his second wife Lupe Marin, plus other important works. We followed this with dinner at Chef Alejandro Rios’ Guzina Oaxaca.

How do we get around Mexico City?  If I can’t get there on foot, I call UBER.  Yes, Mexico City is served by UBER and you can usually get a private, secure car and driver to come pick you up in less than ten minutes. All cars have seat belts, most drivers provide a small bottle of water as a courtesy, and there is no exchange of money and no tipping.  It’s the best!

Oaxaca Portrait Photography Workshop starts January 30.

Scheduling 2015 Looking for Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo Art History Study Tour. Are you interested? Send an email!

Oaxaca Filigree Gold and Silver, Antique Jewelry, Pawn Shops and Prayer for Rain

Gold filigree earrings are a favorite of traditional indigenous women in villages throughout Oaxaca, Mexico.  Mexican gold filigree jewelry, usually 10k or 12k, is gifted at life cycle events and is an important part of engagement and marriage traditions.  Antique pieces are usually more costly because of the workmanship.

Antique 10k gold filigree earrings, Oaxaca, Mexico

Antique 10k gold filigree earrings, Oaxaca, Mexico

Filigrana, the art of working gold threads or coils into intricate designs, was brought to Mexico by the Spanish after the conquest.  The Spanish learned the technique from the Moors.  Master goldsmiths taught local craftsmen and the skill became a family trade handed down through the generations. Today, there are a few master craftsmen working in gold, but because of the cost many visitors to Oaxaca choose filigree worked in sterling silver.

New silver filigree earrings by Mario Perez

New silver filigree earrings by Mario Perez

One such filigree craftsman is Mario Perez, who shares a shop with famed woodcarver Jacobo Angeles on Macedonio Alcala.  Step inside to see how silver becomes bows from which dangle gemstones and colored glass, curlicues, birds, flowers and angels.  The designs are intricate and beautifully executed. Mario makes earrings, pendants, rings, and complete necklaces.

Be careful — cuidado — if you are shopping price, beware that there are knock-offs that are imported from China.  Yes, indeedy.

One of my favorite places to explore and window shop is the Casa de Empeño Monte Piedad.  This is a bonafide government owned/regulated pawn shop located at the corner of Macedonio Alcala and Morelos, and one of the biggest.  Doors close between 2:00 pm and 3:00 pm.  At the corner is the Caja, the payment center.  Walk two doors down on Morelos (toward Garcia Virgil) to see the display of goodies for sale — some upwards of $10,000 USD.

Small antique 10k gold and pearl filigree earrings, Oaxaca, pawn shop

Small antique 10k gold and pearl filigree earrings, Oaxaca, pawn shop

Everything is priced by weight.  If you are lucky, you might find an antique pair of gold filigrana earrings (like I did the other day) for well under $80 USD.  One of the pearls was missing but all the parts worked beautifully.  I walked to a small family operated jewelry shop a few blocks away from the Zocalo, asked if they did repairs, and twenty minutes later my earrings were fixed — better than new!.  Materials and labor: $8 USD.

The pawn shops are filled with merchandise now.  I don’t know why.  Maybe more people are out of work, or what grandmother liked the granddaughters don’t, or the Guelaguetza tourist season was underwhelming and families need cash.  There are other priorities besides jewelry.  Many Casa de Empeños are located throughout the city, especially near in the 20 de Noviembre market. Keep your eyes open. You may not need to buy retail if you admire the old artistry.

P.S. This is the rainy season and it is dry, dry, dry.  No rain for weeks.  The corn is yellowing and some fields are dead.  Today, my next door neighbor irrigated his field.  How?  Water from a well or flowing from the mountain reservoir. The water gushed down trenches dug yesterday.  This coming season will likely bring scarcity and high prices for maize.  When food costs soar, people will sell what is not essential.   Abundance in the pawn shops. Join me in the prayer for rain.  It is painful to watch the fields shriveling and giving up their promise of food.