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The Color of Silver

William Spratling: His Life and Art

by Taylor D. Littleton

Southern Biography

322 pages / 6.00 x 9.00 inches / 70 halftones

Art | Arts & Crafts

  Hardcover / 9780807125335 / March 2000
  Paperback / 9780807156261 / September 2014

“The true color of silver is white, the same color as extreme heat and extreme cold. It is also the same color as the first food received by an infant and it is the color of light. Its very malleability is an invitation to work it.”—William Spratling

In this lavishly illustrated biography of silversmith and graphic artist William Spratling (1900–1967), Taylor D. Littleton reintroduces one of the most fascinating American expatriates of the early twentieth century. Best known for his revolutionary silver designs, Spratling influenced an entire generation of Mexican and American silversmiths and transformed the tiny village of Taxco into the “Florence of Mexico.” Littleton widens the context of Spratling’s popular reputation by examining the formative periods in his life and art that preceded his brilliant entrepreneurial experiment in the Las Delicias workshop in Taxco, which left a permanent mark on Mexico’s artistic orientation and economic life.

Spratling made a fortune manufacturing and designing silver, but his true life’s work was to conserve, redeem, and interpret the ancient culture of his adopted country. He explained for North American audiences the paintings of Mexico’s modern masters and earned distinction as a learned and early collector of pre-Columbian art. Spratling and his workshop gradually became a visible and culturally attractive link between a steady stream of notable American visitors and the country they wanted to see and experience.

Littleton chronicles Spratling’s boyhood and college years in Alabama and his periods of residency within the artistic “renaissance” communities of 1920s New Orleans and 1930s Mexico. He also considers the influence of young Spratling’s friendships with prominent artists and writers of the day, especially his roommate and fellow European traveler William Faulkner. Finally, he outlines the resurrection of the international eminence of Spratling’s designs and assesses the significance of the artist’s cultural legacy.

Spratling had the rare good fortune to witness his own reputation—as one of the most admired Americans in Mexico—assume legendary status before his death. The Color of Silver vividly reconstructs this richly diverse life whose unique aesthetic legacy is but a part of its larger cultural achievement of profoundly influencing Americans’ attitudes toward a civilization different from their own. 

Taylor D. Littleton is W. Kelly Mosley Professor of Science and Humanities Emeritus at Auburn University and the coauthor of Advancing American Art: Painting, Politics, and Cultural Confrontation at Mid-Century and Athletics and Academe.

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