Mexico’s Silver Lined Pueblo Magico
"The true color of silver is white, like that of maximum heat and that of maximum cold. It is also the color of the first food that man receives, and the color of light." William Spratling
We arrived in Mexico City at 12pm on a Tuesday, after spending 4 days celebrating a beautiful marriage with lovely people in Tulum. As soon as we arrived at the airport, we picked up the rental car and got on the road to make the 2.5 hour drive to Taxco, Mexico. The drive was beautiful - green fields and rolling hills everywhere. Our entrance into Taxco was met with windy cobblestone roads meandering through hills peppered with 1970s white VW bugs converted into taxis. It was love at first sight and easy to see why this quaint, but robust town is affectionately known as Pueblo Magico - Magic Town.
The views of church steeples, haciendas and terracotta roofs were stunning from all angles, and we could barely wait to start exploring. To our delight, our hotel was everything the pictures said it would be: A historic castle inspired design, smack dab in the middle of the city. The view from the roof was so breathtaking that I wished time would stand still so I could take it all in.
On The Hunt For Local Silversmiths
Once we’d settled in (and down!), we went to the reception and asked if there was a jewelry workshop nearby where I could see artisans at work. The receptionist suggested one within walking distance, where to our good fortune, we met an artisan named Abraham. He happily welcomed us into his workshop and was so enthused to show us the different handcrafted jewelry designs he was working on that I could hardly believe we struck it lucky so easefully.
He then took an hour explaining the different techniques that Mexican artisans use to craft raw metal into beautiful fine jewelry. Standing in that studio with Abraham was a moment of pure delight where passion meets connection - a moment of exchange across cultures and languages, to an appreciation of the histories that intersected to connect our paths in that present moment. Those are the moments that fill me up inside because they’re so genuine and effortless that they renew my faith that I’m on the right path.
Abraham was kind enough to offer to take me around town the next day to visit other artisans and gem shops. He didn’t want anything in return and was so passionate about his craft that he was happy to show a curious visitor inside his world. He took me around to several of the artisans in town and I got a chance to look at their work in their workshops. I chatted with them about pieces and orders and got a sense of what it would be like to work with Mexican artisans.
Gems Come In All Shapes & Sizes
The talent at the workshops I visited was incredible: The artisans themselves were all such gems and so open to share knowledge and expertise, with each workshop showcasing their own specialty: some were wax casting experts - carving elaborately detailed animals and figurines; while others were experts in making chunky chains. All of the workshops were well equipped with modern tools - a huge difference from the majority in Senegal.
I also went to a couple of gem stores stacked with beautiful crystals, local stones, and foreign gems. It would have been futile to resist the temptation to buy into the nostalgia, so I didn’t, and treated myself to some local crystals and Mexican snail fossils that are such beautiful remnants of the past. Taxco, this little silver town in the mountains ended up being a designers dream.
Slow Fashion Meets Slow-Cooked Food
Is it any wonder that a Pueblo Magico that prides itself on traditional jewelry making and handcrafted workmanship would have an equally time-honoured approach to food?
Taxco is arguably as well known for its Barbacoa as it is for its silver: It’s a technique of slow cooking cow, sheep or goat meat in an underground oven overnight until tender and succulent - and also the origin for the word ‘barbecue’!
After getting directions winding through several stalls - and following our nose, there at the end of the hall was the Barbacoa. As there were many different vendors selling the same style meal, we sat down with the one who looked the most passionate...The Barbacoa taco and consomé didn’t disappoint and we knew we’d made the right choice. Consomé is the juice of the slow cooked meat, transformed into a simple, fresh soup with potatoes, carrots, cilantro and barbacoa. It was as delicious as it sounds.
Food For Thought
The rest of the trip consisted of stuffing my face with delicious local food and delving deeper into the history of handmade silver jewelry in Taxco. Super fascinating was the William Spratling Museum: He was an American entrepreneur who established the silver design industry in Taxco in the 1930s. Although Taxco had always been known as a centre for raw silver, it was Spratling - with his love for Aztec designs and silver jewelry making - who started teaching local aspiring silver designers how to produce and develop the craft of fine jewelry making.
He established Taxco as a leader in handmade silver jewelry and created apprenticeships that earned him the nickname El Padre de la Plata de México (The Father of Mexican Silver). Spratling’s museum has almost 300 pieces from his personal collection dating over several decades - each one incredibly powerful and beautifully made.
What I love most about Spratling’s designs are that they are a unique mix of historic indigenous symbols and modern design - all made at his Taxco workshops in collaboration with local artisans. A work ethic and design approach that’s so in line with Äyna’s that I couldn’t help but feel the strong resonance of similarities.
I searched all over Taxco to find similar work inspired by the history of the indigenous cultures, but sadly, I wasn’t successful. In a town that produces jewelry for the likes of Tiffany and Pandora, commercial jewelry designs flood the streets. That’s where the demand currently is, and the artisanal focus reflects that.
That said, there were signs that the slow fashion movement is gaining more popularity. I hope this means that more traditional design aesthetics and symbology that hold meaning and significance will find their way back to the public eye.