Noting William Spratling’s success in Taxco, in 1945 the United States Interior Department invited him to create a similar crafts industry to revitalize the Alaskan economy and encourage local tribes to develop their artistic talents. Shortly thereafter, Spratling flew his own plane to Alaska and was profoundly impressed by what he discovered there. Congress approved preliminary funding of the project in 1948, and by 1949 a group of Alaskan veterans was sent to train at Spratling’s workshop in Taxco. The United States government’s contract with Spratling specified that all designs and materials be indigenous to Alaska’s cultural heritage. Although Spratling created some two hundred prototypes that were sent to Washington, D.C. and put on display in the Department of the Interior, Congress was forced to abandon the project due to lack of funding, preventing Spratling from producing his designs for this project. This needle necklace and accompanying earrings clearly manifest Spratling’s fascination with Alaskan art. The striking yet simple set references the tips of javelins; in keeping with Spratling’s predilection for contrasting light and dark, bands of obsidian interrupt the smooth silver surfaces of the hanging needles. This sophisticated set is not only an important and rare testimony of Spratling’s Alaskan experience, but also one of the finest examples of the artist’s work.
Ellen Dooley, Assistant Curator, Latin American Art