As painters, writers and musicians of the 1920s confronted a brave New Mexico in the wake of the nation’s revolution, silver artists engaged with a reinvention of their own.
In the wake of a bloody revolution that had raged for a decade between 1910 and 1920, Mexico was ready to embrace renewal: artists and artisans across the newly democratised nation were inspired to re-examine their national identity and cultural traditions.
Borrowing freely from Aztec through Art Deco designs more than a half century ago, American professor of architecture, William Spratling began reshaping Mexican silver jewellery into a modern style that is rich in leafage, mythological animals, astrological symbols, ranch images and Jazz Age motifs. In the process, he helped transform Taxco from a sleepy mining town in the Guerrero Mountains in Mexico into a world-renowned silver centre.
The pre-Hispanic motifs Spratling began with were soon mixed with modern Cubist and contemporary folk elements in the highly sophisticated earrings, necklaces, pendants, bracelets and money clips he designed. He was also responsible for combining wood and silver and such semi-precious stones as obsidian, amethyst, onyx, turquoise and jet.
Antonio Castillo and his three brothers, Jorge, Miguel and Justo all trained in Spratling's shop before they went out on their own to open Los Castillo in 1939, one of the most prominent of the Mexican jewellery producers which is now in its second generation.
The Castillo’s were responsible for introducing works that married two or more metals. They also did enamelling, feather work and Aztec mosaics. Their practice combined complex and simple selections in solid silver sometimes with semi-precious stones or glass.
At 16 years of age in 1929, Antonio was the first of the Castillo brothers to join Spratling as an apprentice. The eventual success of their enterprise was based on their individual skills, both as silversmiths and as designers. Their work was inspired by old Aztec figures and decoration, which over the years have become increasingly diverse and popular.
The work of Los Castillo is an important representation of the mid-20th century Mexican modernist movement and is now keenly sought after. Today, Los Castillo lives on in the hands of Antonio Castillo's daughter, Emilia and her two daughters.