Born in Sonyea, New York, Spratling attended Auburn University. Once he moved to New Orleans in 1921, Spratling came to work at Tulane University as an Associate Professor of Architecture. After having visited Mexico for the first time in 1926, Spratling continued to spend time there during the summers, moving there in 1929.
Assimilating readily into the artistic circles of Mexico, Spratling became involved promoting Diego Rivera in New York. With funds realized from the promotion of Rivera's work, Spratling bought a residence in Taxco where he moved to begin designing jewelry. These designs were carried out by various craftsmen who also produced tin ware, copper items, textiles and furniture--all based on Spratling's designs. The earliest Spratling designs were based on pre-Columbian motifs. Because he had created an apprentice system of training young silversmiths, many new talented artisans had an opportunity to develop their work. Many broke away and opened shops of their own, with Spratling's encouragement. Acknowledged by many as "The Father of Mexican Silver", certainly the town of Taxco and its economy would have been entirely different, had Spratling not settled there.