is one of the world's treasures, a Mexican colonial
town known the world over for its silver. To those
who have already visited it is beloved for its architectural
and geographical beauty and for the kindness and generosity
of its people.
OF PEOPLE IN AND OUT OF TAXCO
Francisco “Chico” Gómez Aviles
Taxco Guerrero, Mexico December 15, 1926/March 21, 2002.
Gomez began working at an early age as did so many young Taxqueñan
boys. First working in his father’s grocery store on
the zócalo, he later apprenticed to a carpenter whose
taller was in the old customs house where Spratling also had
a taller before moving down the street to the Casa Roja and
las Delicias. Chico was not at all fond of the carpenter’s
machines, fearing to be a victim in one of the of the common
accidents. He moved on, next working in orfebreria, a job from
which he also departed finally settling on what would be his
talent with the engraving tools which he himself formed allowed
him to work with the best of Taxco’s silver designers–from
Chato Castillo to Janna Thomas and William Spratling. His humor,
his enormous talent and his creativity gave him a lifetime
of choices in his work and gave him the companionship of Taxco’s
finest. He kept his his humor, his skill and his fine eye for
engraving up to the last. Chico Gomez was a charming and talented
man who is missed by many of us in Taxco.
Antonio, Texas, February 4, 1947
so many people have written about Taxco, authors from many
perspectives and from many countries, no one has affected
the town like Penny. Her two books on Taxco celebrate the
silver jewelry industry in Mexico in text and photos. She
also organized an exhibition of Taxco's celebrated silver
designs that traveled across the United States originating
at the San Antonio Museum of Art and closing at the Winterthur
Museum in Delaware -- Maestros de Plata: William Spratling
and the Mexican Silver Renaissance.
Candid and forthright, Penny described herself to us as a "border kid" incorporating
the cultures of both southern Texas and Mexico. Her grandparents were contemporaries
of William Spratling. They renovated a colonial building and opened their hotel
in Taxco in 1931. Leaving Taxco in 1942 to return to the States during the
war, they were soon back on southern territory opening a hotel in Acapulco
in the 1950's. Penny and her family spent a year there, Penny attending first
grade at the bi-lingual McGregor School. Returning to the United States with
her family, Penny was back in Mexico in 1964 visiting her grandparents who
had then retired to live in Cuernavaca. This was her first exposure to Taxco
where she met many of her grandparents' friends, including William Spratling.
So affected by her exposure to Mexican culture, Penny attended college majoring
in Mexican Art History at Newcomb/Tulane University in New Orleans. She went
on to recieve her doctorate from the University of Maryland. Asked to describe
her attraction to Mexican jewelry, Penny had this to say,
"Mexican silver jewelry is powerfully formed, an aesthetic that is both
ancient and quite distinctive. Silver designers in Mexico have created some of
the most imaginative jewelry in the world because, while they adhere to the pre-Columbian
past, they blend these forms with a prevailing style. The jewelry of Fred Davis,
Valentin Vidaurreta and Sprating is filled with references to Art Deco and, later,
Modernism. These designers also erased the line between high and low art by inspiring
craftsmen to become artists."
Penny looks to the future working with Taxco's contemporary designers to bring
their work to the attention of collectors and of those who appreciate fine
design and craftsmanship in silver around the world.
you would like to buy any of these wonderful books just click
on the picture of the book that interests you.
Taxco, Guerrero, Mexico, August 12, 1935
Taxco, in much of the rest of Mexico and in many other places
around the world, the name Tapia is synonymous with exquisitely
produced silver sculptures. Not so well known are his jewelry
designs which are less Mexican in character than his sculptural
work, but equally beautifully crafted.
was born to a stone cutting family in Pedro Martin, a small
suburb of Taxco. At thirteen he began working along side of
his father producing reproductions of pre-Hispanic sculptures
which were sold to collectors such as William Spratling and
Diego Rivera. As a boy, Tapia visited Rivera's studio and with
Rivera's panache he asked the young boy, "What is in the
stone?" I believe this question is not original to Rivera,
but it had a great effect on the young boy. Even today he deftly
incorporates stones into his work in silver. They may be carved,
incised, highly polished or roughened to enhance the overall
design, but in the end they are essential to the finished work.
visited with Tapia in his workshop and met a few of his silversmiths.
I was surprised at their relative youth given
their technical skills. As has everyone else in Taxco, I had
seen many Tapia sculptures winning first prize in the annual
Silver Festival. Producing a sculpture takes at least three
months of very hard work. The first step is in a technique
called repoussé. A form made usually in a base metal
like antimony is made from a design first executed in gesso.
Sheets of silver are lain over the form and then a hammer is
used to pound the silver into the form. Tapia uses 970 silver
(970 parts of pure silver to 30 parts of copper -- sterling
is 925) for his sculptures because it is softer to work and
it retains more of the white quality of pure silver. Once all
of the parts of a sculpture are ready, they are soldered, or
joined together, using pure silver and a very noisy and sophisticated
process operated by a very talented silversmith.
and his wife had six children and two followed him into the
silver business -- Ezekial and Carmen, his daughter who has
already won an award in Taxco's Silver Competition and Festival.
Tapia himself has won many of these awards, the first in 1966
when William Spratling was one of the judges. He went on to
win nineteen of the forty silver competitions he entered and
no doubt he will win many more.
see some of his work, visit his store in Taxco called Exel
Tapia at No. 15-C Calle Real de Cuauhtémoc. The telephone
number there is (762)622-0416. Please also see his
advertisement on Taxco-Today.com by clicking
Guerrero, Mexico, 1925
Manuel Gutierrez passed away; he will be remembered.
with his wife Hermila, and daughter Sofie
of Taxco's native sons, Manuel Gutierrez was born in 1925 and
began working at the age of fourteen learning the craft of tin
work as a helper at Hector Aguilar's Taller Borda. In 1945 Manuel
married Hermila Fitz Urquiza who was just fifteen at the time.
Manuel was then working in silver becoming a contratista,
or contract worker, along with Luis Flores. Aguilar
would give them a design saying, "Here's my design; give
it life." For his work, Manuel earned just 49 pesos a week,
never receiving a raise. He worked for Aguilar until the month
long strike in the early 1960's. During our interview while
talking about the strike, the gentle Hermila spoke up about
that strike with much heart to say "fue una trampa
[it was a trick]. When Aguilar realized the men were going to
unionize, he put all of his property in other people's names,
then said he was bankrupt and closed the doors." That was
on Christmas eve when the men were met in the morning at the
workshop doors by Aguilar's attorney saying the shop was closed
and they were to go home. Manuel, trying to soften Hermila's
anger, did say that while working for Aguilar he was allowed
to work for other people if he had finished his production for
the week so he was able to earn a little more when he worked
quickly. When the doors to Taller Borda were closed workers
were let go with small compensation for their years of labor
if there was any compensation at all. After working for Aguilar
from 1939 until 1960, twenty one years, Manuel received two
wooden work benches as retirement and one copper model of a
panson peon or chess pawn. "Many workers received
the strike Manuel found that he was doing better financially
and that his income was more stable. He began a business with
his sons Pedro and Armando called "Taller Tres Hermanos"
selling to owners of some of the better wholesale shops in town
-- Sra. Alicia Ortíz owner of Dulce Plateros, Andrés
Mejia owner of Galeria
de Arte en Plata and
Miguel Pineda. I didn't meet Manuel until the mid 1980's when
I saw the beautiful work he could do making of a hard metal
something soft and alluring. I spent hours in his tiny workshop
watching as he drew silver wire in thirty foot lengths softening
it with the flame of a torch as it hardened from work. I watched
him take these silver strands and twist them using a hand drill
and braid the twisted silver by hand as if it were hair and
later making bracelets. The process was extraordinary, complicated,
knowledge and labor intensive. At the end of a few days there
were several beautiful bracelets lying on the workshop table.
like so many of the talented people in Taxco, knows his craft
as well as he knows how to sleep. It is something he does even
now in his eighties as if it were as natural as taking a breath.
One can't help wonder where the genius lies.
Teneria Guerrero, Mexico July 31, 1953
Born in San Juan Teneria, Guerrero, Nacho’s parents soon
moved their five children to the small village of Temisco in
Morelos. When he was eight the family moved to Taxco and by
the age of nine he began working in the taller of Miguel Romero
in Ojeda where they made closet keys and silver animal pins
inset with shell. At fourteen, Nacho moved on to work in the
taller of Arnulfo Sandoval, there mastering the art of cutting
silver. At fifteen, with all of the skills of a silversmith,
Nacho returned to work in Romero’s taller. Two years later
he moved on to work with Cutberto Jaimes where over five years
Nacho increased his skills in stonework. From twenty-three to
thirty-five he worked for the Plateria la Mina, the Casa Morelos
taller, and again for a while with Cutberto.
At thirty-five, Nacho had surpassed the skills of a master
silversmith; he had become a jeweler or joyero. He opened his
own taller though he continued to learn from other talented
joyeros and silversmiths in the community. He shared projects
with Chico Gomez, Coco Castillo and others during that period
and enjoyed the comradery of the of this group of especially
We met Nacho several years ago when we needed someone who could
cut silver models for our designs that were small and highly
detailed. He did the work beautifully and we began learning
of his other skills. Nacho can make a repair in any piece of
jewelry–in gold or silver, with diamonds or zirconia.
And, his repairs are artfully done to exactly match the work
of the original piece. This is one of his great talents.
Another of his notable skills is the creation of gold
and silver crowns for Santos figures. Here in Taxco his
work can be seen in the churches in Ojeda, Santa Prisca,
San Miguel and El Chorillo on the saints days.
all of the things that Nacho can do with a piece of metal or
stone, he prefers creating fine jewelry, especially designing
and making engagement and wedding rings. “When I see a
beautiful stone, I begin to design.”
February 2, 1936/November 21, 2002
a book on Taxco that I am currently writing, I visited what
was once Spratling’s home in Taxco-el-Viejo and had the
unanticipated pleasure of meeting Alberto Ulrich. Alberto bought
Spratling’s property shortly after the accident that ended
Spratling’s life in the mid 1960's. As much as Spratling,
Alberto had a fascination with pre-Columbian art and he also
loved Spratling’s silver designs. Alberto was excited
about my book and gave his every attention to answering my questions.
Over time, what meant more than that interview to both me and
my husband was our growing friendship with Alberto; one that
was cut short by his sudden death.
Italian, Alberto, and his American wife Carol arrived in Taxco
in the 1960's. Wealthy, adventurous and unconventional, they
built a large house just across from Spratling’s home
on Calle de las Delicias. In 1967, Alberto bought Spratling’s
business and properties, both here in Taxco and in Taxco-el-Viejo.
There Alberto built another large home, leaving the Spratling
house and pool as they had been upon Spratling’s death.
Alberto was a collector, not just of houses, but of many things
ranging from motorcycles to Peruvian weavings and breed cats.
He was a vibrant human being curious in the extreme, but with
a core strength that saw him through his many ups and downs
and close calls. He was a social man with good friends all over
the world and his dining table was rarely without several guests.
was also controversial. There are as many rumors and stories
told about him as there were about Spratling. But, in our
encounters with this unusual man we found him magnetic–full
of humor, ready to take off on an adventure at a moment’s
notice, and open to challenge, not characteristics of many
men in their sixties. On a lark, one year he even visited
us when we traveled to Coroico, Bolivia. We miss his telephone
calls from faraway places and we miss his enthusiastic nature.
When someone like Alberto dies, the world loses a bit of
Jane Keenan Tissot
Canada, July 25, 1932/August 10, 2003.
met Jane Tissot in the garden of her gracious home in 1990.
I was looking for an apartment and she had a few of the
best in town. This brief meeting led not only to a great
apartment, it led to a fond friendship with this unusual
woman. Jane came to visit a friend in Taxco in the 1950's,
just after graduating from art school in Canada. Her infatuation
with Mexico came from her love of Rufino Tamayo’s
paintings, but Jane was to find much to love about Mexico
and she spent the rest of her life here in Taxco.
twenty-three when she arrived, Jane soon found work managing
a honey collecting team for the thriving honey business of German
born Henrick Schlubach at his ranch in Taxco-el-Viejo. Leaving
for Taxco after working there for several months she moved into
one of Natalie Scott’s houses. Jane soon married and began
a family with French born Felix Tissot, owner of a noted ceramics
business in town. With two children to raise and a business
to run, Jane left her fine art for the more commercial painting
When she was divorced at age forty, she had a beautiful home,
Casa Aguilar, she had her two children, she had the income from
four apartments and she had the talent and drive that brought
her back to the canvas.
Unlike most foreign residents in Taxco, Jane had quickly become
fluent in Spanish. She involved herself in the Mexican arts
community here and in Mexico City and soon became a “must
visit” for intellectuals and artists visiting Taxco.
friend Jane was strong willed and held strong opinions. She
followed political developments here in Mexico and in the world
with an avid interest, she always had flowers in her home, she
made bread every week and saw that all her friends had a loaf.
She had tremendous insight into the soul of Mexico and an equally
high regard for the country. And, she was a fighter, never afraid
to rock a boat or confront what she thought not right. Jane
was a most interesting woman and will always be remembered for
her character, her humor and her humanity.