What can be more vexing to a trained historian looking for information on a subject than the dearth of relevant literature? Almost nothing – believe me when I tell you! And unfortunately, this is the case with vintage Mexican jewelry. Despite the existence of a handful of good works on Taxco’s Silver Renaissance, the most recent among them being Penny Morrill’s book on Margot de Taxco’s enamel designs, and several interviews with Taxco maestros and magazine articles scattered here and there, there is so much that we still don’t know about the majority of those involved in it, both “big names” and “less celebrated” silversmiths. One could easily say that we have barely scratched the surface…
So imagine my surprise when I discovered that there is a whole new publication on – can you even guess? – the history and jewelry of Mexico City’s Casa Maya! Well, I know – we are kind of veering off our quest for knowledge on Mexico’s silver jewelry yet I couldn’t help but yell “YES!” when I first stumbled upon the reference in one of my Google searches.
Of course I had to have the book – right away! And when it arrived, fresh and entombed in its sealed plastic wrapping, I dropped everything else that was waiting for my attention and immersed myself in its pages… And I guess I should have already provided this bit of crucial information – I am referring to Sandy Hargrove’s, Maya Mexico Jewelry; An Informational Guide, published in 2011 by the Lulu Press in Raleigh, NC.
I liked Maya jewelry from the first time I stumbled upon one of their pieces. In the 1950s, they started producing beautiful designs in copper and brass, oftentimes combining the two metals with silver as well. According to Hargrove, the reason for this turn to non-precious metals was related to the increasing numbers of tourists pouring into Mexico. The people behind Maya saw in that increase the opportunity to service a wider albeit not always as affluent clientele that visited the country and wanted to take something back with them. Affordable jewelry with good craftsmanship and interesting design could be the ideal souvenir. I would add that the late 1940s-1950s was a period in which copper and brass came to the forefront of jewelry design once again not only in Mexico but also in the States – let’s not forget the creations of Francisco Rebajes and the all copper, or enamel-over-copper jewelry that was made by Matisse-Renoir and other, less known companies.
Though I cherish all Maya creations, I think I can easily say that my most favorite line consists of the Hubert Harmon designs they produced in brass and copper – they don’t surface very often and when they do, they command high prices just because Harmon’s original silver pieces are even more impossible to come up with! That’s why I don’t have any photos to show you either but a quick Google search will prove fruitful…
The designs in which Maya overlays brass and silver on usually hand-hammered copper are also on my “wanted” list and I truly enjoy their copper, brass and green enamel line! Just take a look at the bold, crazy “Carmen Miranda” style of the necklace and bracelet often referred to as “The Kiss” even though it seems that the figures are representations of ancient Maya noblemen (again according to Hargrove possibly even the 7th c. CE king Pacal of Palenque). And note the mask-like features of the grand bull in the “Toro” bracelet and earrings.
Last but not least, the “Eagle / Hawk with Xochitl flowers” cuff – a piece I wanted to lay my hands on for ever and I finally found one.
Enjoy your July 4th weekend, have fun and should you want to join me with stories and photos of your Maya pieces, by all means please do so!