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Mexican Tree of Life History

What is an Arbol de la Vida?

The creation of Mexican Trees of Life ( Arbols de la Vida )is part of a folk art pottery tradition from the central region of Mexico. The cities best known for this craft is Metepec, Acatlán and Izúcar de Matamoros.  Arbols de la Vida is given to the hand coiled pottery usually in the shape of a tree and is made from locally mined clay. Each tree is hand sculpted and painted and typically depicts Biblical scenes, flowers, animals, angels and normal everyday symbols of the artisan's life around them. It is said that the first potter to develop this tradition was Aurelio Flores who began making Arbols de la Vida in the 1920's.  Trees of Life were traditionally used as a gift for newlyweds as a symbol of fertility and abundance.  They have evolved over the years and now can be seen with images representing Mexican culture and history including decorating Day of the Dead altars to remember past loved ones. 

These Mexican Trees of Life can also be traced back to the early colonial period when Spanish Friars commissioned the indigenous potters to create candelabras with biblical figures such as Adam and Eve. It was a way of evangelizing the Catholic faith to the native cultures by incorporating their ceramic traditions with the story of Christianity.

 
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Circa 1970

Metepec style 21.5" x 21.5"

Sold by Mexicana Nirvana

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Circa 1970  

Attributed to Francisco Flores

Was sold at Arte De La Vida

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Circa 1970

Attributed to Francisco Flores

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Circa 1970

Attributed to Francisco Flores

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Attributed to Héron Martínez 

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Metepec, Mexico

Attributed to the Soteno Family

Sablan Ceramics Collection

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Attributed to Héron Martínez 

Circa 1970  |  26" x 16"

Attributed to Francisco Flores

Sablan Ceramics Collection

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Metepec, Mexico

Attributed to Tiburcio Soteno

Sablan Ceramics Collection

 

Mexican Tree of Life Resources

Want to learn more?

Below are some great research resources on Mexican Trees of Life

Arbols de la Vida is still a thriving tradition in Mexico but as with most cultures and traditions of today it gets more and more diluted as generations come and go.  The tradition itself is passed down from one generation to the next, usually with the young children helping out in the family's studio hand building small pieces with their parents and grandparents. They grow up in the culture of Arbols de la Vida. Thankfully for us there have been many people who want to preserve this amazing art and have recorded it in books and video.  Here are some resources I have found very helpful. If you have any information that you would like to share please send an email to sablanceramics@gmail.com and I can add your information to this page.  

 

Arbol de la Vida Artisans

Sablan Ceramics supports promoting and educating the public about the Mexican Tree of Life tradition and it's artisans in Mexico. We are fortunate there are still families in Mexico who continue to create Arbols de la Vida based on the knowledge passed down from generation to generation.  It's important we support these artisans in keeping their livlihood and art alive and well for generations to come. 

We have also started an Instagram account @mexicantreeoflife dedicated to compiling a visual reference of the older Arbols de la Vida since there are no books to our knowledge providing this information.

 

Originally, there were only a handful of Tree of Life artisans but today there are many more talented artisans who need to be recognized.  It would be impossible to name them all but after some research here is a small list to start.  If you would like for me to include another name, please email sablanceramics@gmail.com.

 

Mexican Tree of Life Videos

A great video from Mercado369 a Latin American art gallery specializing in one-of-a-kind artisan pieces from Mexico to Argentina.  This video is an interview with Alfonso Castillo Hernandez where he talks a little about the family and the history of Arbols de la Vida.

Verónica Castillo was born in Izucar de Matamoros in the Mexican state of Puebla. Castillo's family is known for their creation of Arbol de la Vida (Tree of Life)Castillo was initially introduced to this traditional art form by her grandmother, though a number of her family members were artists, including her father, Don Alfonso Castillo Orta, who was recognized with Mexico's prestigious national prize El Premio Nacional de Ciencias y Artes (The National Prize of Sciences & Arts). 

Mexican Tree of Life Books

 
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Ceramic Trees of Life: Popular Art from Mexico

This Mexican Tree of Life book was written by Lenore Hoag Mulryan in conjunction with the  UCLA Fowler Museum  of Cultural History. She conducted research on Mexican ceramic art for over 25 years and wrote this book exploring the depth and origins of the Tree of Life

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The Pottery of Acatlán: A Changing Mexican Tradition

This book was written by Louana M. Lackey. She worked closely with Mario Martinez Espinosa and his family to learn the process first hand of how they made and marketed their art, including Trees of Life.

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Crafts of Mexico

This book was written by Marian Harvey and has a chapter that interviews a Tree of Life Artisan who explains how they make Arbols de la Vida.

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Trees of Life: Veronica Castillo & Kathy Sosa

This Mexican Tree of Life e-book cover the two woman exhibit from 2015 to 2016 with Veronica Castillo a 4th generation Mexican Tree of Life artisan and Kathy Sosa's larger than life colorful paintings using Mexican Trees of Life as from Veronica Castillo as her inspiration.

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The Spirit of Folk Art

Mexican Folk Art Lovers! This covers the Girard Collection at the Museum of International Folk Art in Santa Fe, New Mexico. It covers folk art from around the world with an extensive collection of Mexican Master Artisans.

 

DIY Mexican Tree of Life Art Projects & Crafts

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Paper Tree Of Life Craft for Children

The Museum of International Folk Art in Santa Fe, NM has created a wonderful DIY Mexican Tree of Life paper craft project, perfect for kids. The Tree of Life appears in many forms of folk art across cultures. In Mexican Folk Art, ceramic Trees of Life often show birds, animals, angels and nativity scenes, while other traditions might include religious and fertility symbols.

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Emma Carlow Metio Tree of Life 

A friend of mine Joe Migotti sent me this wonderful gift one day. It is a unpainted Tree of Life made of plywood which you can paint. Instructions included. This Tree of Life was inspired by the Mexican Tree of Life (Arbol de la Vida) collection at the Museum of International Folk Art in Santa Fe, New Mexico. The designs of these trees of life are as diverse as the artisans who make them and the villages in which they live. In general, however, trees of life depict the creation story and feature animals, angels, and other characters. Trees of life are made and given as symbols of abundance, fertility and joy. 

 

Mexican Folk Art Groups

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Mexican Folk Art Collectors & Collections

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Mexican Folk Art Museums

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The Girard Folk Art Collection is a must see if you are a lover of Mexican Folk Art. I highly recommend seeing the amazing folk art collection curated over a lifetime by Alexander and Susan Girard, including folk art from around the world!

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Vintage Mexican Tree of Life Metepec
Vintage Mexican Pottery Heron Martinez
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The Gardiner Museum in Canada has a website page with some photos on Tiburcio Soteno Fernández and his art - A Family's Story

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The Folk Art Museum of Central Texas is proud to hold works by significant artists from around Mexico 

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The Folk Art Museum of Central Texas is proud to hold works by significant artists from around Mexico 

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Casa Dolores, is a small museum that houses one of the largest collections of Mexican folk art on the Californian Central Coast.

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In 1982, Carlos Tortolero organized a group of fellow educators and founded the Mexican Fine Arts Center Museum, which opened its doors in 1987. Their mission is to stimulate knowledge and appreciation of Mexican art and culture from both sides of the border through a significant permanent collection of Mexican art

 

Mexican Folk Art Exhibits

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October 29, 2011 to February 19, 2012 The Tacoma Art Museum held an exhibit featuring various Mexican Folk art pieces from Nelson A. Rockefellers collection.