A little bit of Mexican Tree of Life history.

What is an Arbol de la Vida?

The creation of Arbols de al Vida ( Trees of Life ) 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 trees 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

Circa 1970  |  26" x 16"

Attributed to Francisco Flores

Sablan Ceramics Collection

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Circa 1970

Attributed to Francisco Flores

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Attributed to Héron Martínez 

Circa 1980

Attributed to the Castillo family

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Circa 1970

Attributed to Francisco Flores

Sablan Ceramics collection

 

Want to learn more?

Here 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 Artisan Family: Castillo

There are few families in Mexico that have been known for generations for their Arbol de la Vida art. The Castillo family is now in it's 5th generation of artisans. Some of the current artisans include:

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). 

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Ceramic Trees of Life: Popular Art from Mexico

This 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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