Emilia Castillo (ca. 1960 – ) is a second generation Mexican designer. She is the daughter of Don Antonio Castillo (1923? – 2000) who was one of the founding brothers, in 1939, of Los Castillo. The company is still in business and overseen by Emilia who developed into a gifted designer in her own right.
As soon as she could walk out of the house, Emilia Castillo says, she was in the workshop, pestering the silversmiths until they handed her a hammer and put her to work. At the age of 8, she was designing pins, bracelets and rings for her school friends and had found her passion.
Her official website describes her formative years and inspirations:
“Emilia grew up in Taxco, a silver mining town in Mexico, playing in her father’s wonderful workshop among talented craftsmen. [From] a very young age she saw her father, Antonio and her uncles Chato and Coco, busy designing and creating beautiful wares and jewels.
“Always surrounded by silver, copper, iron, natural stones and all kinds of tools, Emilia fell in love with the process of transforming them into toys and fun objects. Inspired by the natural beauty of the workshop surroundings, the magnificent waterfall that crosses the gardens and all of the creatures that thrive there, her work is a loving expression of her gratitude and appreciation towards nature.
“Carrying on her father’s tradition, every piece is entirely hand made. Many commissions have been made for special occasions [including] the chapel of The Virgin of Guadalupe in The Vatican, and other work for many heads of state.”
Each unique piece Emilia creates is a playful mixture of metals and natural elements such as, lapis lazuli, jasper, turquoise, malachite, onyx and alabaster. The pieces, as beautiful as they are functional are meant to be used.
Her techniques, including a patent for fusing silver to porcelain, have evolved the art forms in which she works. For example, whimsical takes on nature mixed with her expertise have made her home décor and jewelry pieces eagerly sought after. Her creations grace homes worldwide, including those of royalty and heads of state. Her work for the Vatican’s Chapel of the Virgin Guadalupe includes an altar and cross.
In her jewelry collections, Emilia gives fauna not flora center stage in beautifully detailed handmade creations that include lariat necklaces, cuff bracelets, and silver rings. Some of her designs highlight sculpted forms of monkeys, alligators, coiled snakes, and giraffes to name a few.
Though intricately detailed, Emilia embraces the idea that less is more. Her homage to creatures large and small do not use pavé gemstones. In one instance, she manipulates oxidized and white sterling silver to reveal and replicate exotic zebra skin. In another example, she virtually recreates the sinewy, body curvature and coarse ridges of an alligator.
Her hollow ware includes large lapis-blue porcelain bowls that are traced with tiny silver fish, almost as if they were embroidered on. Castillo’s silver-on-porcelain work is exemplified in dinner plates and boxes. Many of Emilia’s designs are sold by the Neiman Marcus chain of department stores who discovered her in 1992.
“We never repeat,” she says. “We are always improving, getting better with the details…. We only want great artisans who love what they do. Silver is too precious a metal. It has to be used with love.”
Emilia’s more traditional work includes a tall urn with malachite salamanders standing on their tails as supports, a pitcher with a malachite parrot handle, an exquisite tureen with a frog on a raised lily pad for a cover and clearly demonstrate her artistic abilities and versatility.
“I was just infatuated with silver ever since I first saw it,” adds the designer. “I couldn’t concentrate in school, thinking of the workshops.”
Today, Castillo, operates her own studio and designs a wide range of objects that have included trophies given by the Prince of Wales for polo games and gifts to several heads of state from the Mexican government.
She is also the winner of Mexico’s 1994 Galardon Presidential Award for silversmiths, winning the prize with a life-size articulated iguana in pure porcelain with silver overlay.
Penny C. Morrill, author of “Mexican Silver” (Schiffer Publishing Ltd.) calls Castillo “one of the preeminent silver designers in the world today.”
Emilia’s two daughters have become involved in her workshop’s production adding further creative styles and inspirations to the Castillo legacy of creativity.
In addition to her numerous awards, Emilia Castillo’s one of a kind pieces have been added to the assemblages of collectors worldwide.