Details from the Spratling-Taxco Collection, The Latin American Library, Tulane University.
A Passion for Silver, A Golden Opportunity
PENNY MORRILL'S lifelong passion for Mexican silver came through a remarkably direct route. At 17, her grandparents introduced her to the famed silver designer William Spratling. Spratling, an American-born artist and former Tulane professor, has been called the "Father of Mexican Silver" for his reestablishment of the silver industry in Taxco, Mexico. His collection of pre-Columbian art sparked an interest in the young Morrill, who went on to study Colonial Mexican art at Tulane University.
After graduating from Tulane in 1969, Morrill went on to receive her master's degree in pre-Colombian Art from the University of Pennsylvania and her PhD in Colonial Mexican Art from the University of Maryland. She is a leading expert on Mexican silver, having published five books (her sixth is near completion), written dozens of articles and lectured widely on the subject. Throughout, her interest in Spratling never wavered.
In 1992 Morrill returned to Taxco for research on a new book. In the course of interviewing elderly Spratling designers and workers, she was struck by how quickly history was being lost. But she also sensed an opportunity: Her alma mater's Latin American Library would provide an ideal home for Spratling Taxco resources.
Morrill immediately decided to develop a collection devoted to Spratling-Taxco with the express purpose of donating it to Tulane.
Planning the collection as a gift transformed the process of acquisition into something more valuable. She says, "The act of collecting becomes activated and given meaning. It's not about I want more of this, it's more like an exciting adventure and I'm going to share that adventure with the students and faculty at Tulane."
She's scoured the globe, locating drawings and unpublished materials in tiny Washington, DC boutiques and even tracking down the partner of a New Orleanian journalist who had relocated to Portugal.
The next step was having an independent appraiser determine the value of her donations. According to Morrill, the team at Gift Planning made the process a breeze for her and her husband, Jim. "We feel so fortunate; it has been an incredibly positive experience. These people are really nice and they really know what they are doing-you have fun!"
Plus, she was sitting on a goldmine of her own. In addition to design drawings by Spratling, Margot Van Voorhies and Antonio Castillo that she acquired expressly for Tulane, Morrill had an unrivaled collection of materials on Taxco in the 1930s. The same grandparents who had so fatefully introduced Morrill to Spratling had also run Taxco's first hotel in a restored hacienda. The registers reflect the thriving artistic scene, with George Gershwin, Aldous Huxley and Mae West all putting in appearances. The photographs, tourist books, brochures and even advertisements that Morrill donated provide important context for sociologists, anthropologists and historians.
In establishing the Spratling-Taxco Collection, the Morrills gained something priceless. "lt's about joining a community. [Donors] begin to care more when they donate and they begin to connect more."