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How it all started...

Trees of Life help me heal the loss of my brother.

Years ago I found a vintage tree of life in San Diego and I had no idea what it was. All I knew is that I loved everything about it, the colors, the shape, how it was painted and it was 100% handmade. When I started asking around no one knew what it was, but after some researching I found out I had an "Arbol de la Vida", (Tree of Life) a type of Mexican folk art pottery tradition done in several areas throughout Mexico. 

The first tree of life I found in San Diego.

It is a vintage Tree of Life, made by the Castillo family.

If you would like to see more vintage "Arbols de la Vida" visit my Pinterest page.

From then on I was hooked, a hobby was born of collecting vintage trees, but they were hard to find. The reason why is because they are made with earthenware clay and only fired once which after time makes them prone to cracks that can lead to breakage. To find a vintage tree of life in good condition can start in the $300 range and go up into the thousands depending on the size. Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would be making them. Then one day my life changed.

In July 2014, I got a call that my brother, Chad Ware never came back from his trip to Mexico.  Two weeks later the Mexican consulate confirmed they had found Chad's mutilated body in a remote area. He was only 35 years old.  I never found out exactly what happened and was never able to bury his body.  His death changed something deep inside my soul. I was lost in the pain... I couldn't see life anymore and everything seemed meaningless. So I did what I normally do when I don't know what to do, I travel, it helps me find a different perspective.


Chad was an orphan when we adpoted him at 2 months old, so I thought maybe I could give back to other orphans. I tried to find volunteer programs in the US but found nothing.....then one night India came up on a search result. And immediately I knew, I had to go.  I took off for one month on a volunteer program to help orphans and teach monks English. I had never been to India and honestly was a bit scared.

That trip was was a gift. I faced fears, lit candles, befriended a monk who looked just like Chad and decided moving forward I would be fearless. I realized that every moment, every word, every choice, every decision we make creates our life.  So after my trip I came home and made some big life changes.

One of the big life changes was to embrace the artist within which I had been afraid to share. I let go of the people that were toxic in my life and welcomed in those that were loving and emotionally healthy.

Then one day a friend, ( who also loves Arbols de la Vidas ) told me she was taking a ceramics class to learn how to make them. In that instant, something clicked inside of me and since that day I've never looked back.  Creating these colorful trees is healing. Each tree organically starts to form as I'm building it. Everything is 100% handmade, no templates or molds just my hands and my heart. I go into a time warp when I'm in my studio. The process helps me deal with my brother's death and allows me to turn a horrible memory into something beautiful. The trees symbolize life, strength, growth and transformation. We plant our roots at birth and every decision, every turn we make creates our own unique "tree of life".  And we are the ones who choose if we want to leave a beautiful and colorful tree for the people we leave behind.


Before I die, I want to travel to Izucar de Matamoros, Metepec and Actalan in Mexico and meet the Arbol de la Vida art communities. I started taking Spanish classes so that when that day comes I will be able to communicate and share thoughts and ideas freely with them. It's a life long passion and my brother was the one who helped me find all of this. Thank you Chad.

Arbols de la Vidas will always be close to my heart, as my brother and I hope my creations can also be close to yours.

In loving memory of my brother Chad Brian Ware

March 26, 1979 to July 2014


About the Artist   |   Vanessa Aquiningoc

I was exposed to many cultures growing up and formed a love for colorful cultural art from around the globe. My art comes from a place of deep curiosity, a love of travel, a passion for color, a collector's heart and a need to create everyday. I've tried many mediums from jewelry making, wood carving, painting, tin art, mixed media and more but clay is the medium that I'm most passionate about. Each tree organically grows as I'm forming it. Sometimes I surprise myself wondering where they all come from.  It's like there is a sea of trees floating around in my imagination somewhere waiting to come out. Thank you for looking and I hope you enjoy Sablan Ceramic Trees of Life!


The meaning of the name Sablan.

Many people have asked me where the name Sablan comes from. Sablan is one of my family names as is Flores, Castro, Santos and Aquiningoc.  My family is from Guam and I can say that I'm 100% Chamorro ( native word for people from Guam ).  If you haven't heard of Guam it is a tiny US island territory in the Pacific Ocean, only a couple of hours away from Japan and China.  In our culture, it's tradition to keep both family names upon marriage. So my grandmother, Nieves Castro Flores became Nieves Flores Sablan when she married my grandfather, Joseph Santos Sablan.

They say our name comes from our family's white sand beach named Tarague in the Northern part of the island . Before the military came in, my grandmother's entire family lived on the beach. They made a living making "copra" dried coconut. I remember listening to my grandmother telling me stories of what it was like living and growing up on the beach.


Sablan also sounds very similar to "sable blanc" which means "white sand" in French. Which sounds crazy incorporating European to our family name but it's not.  Blue eyes do run in our family as well as light skin, which is characteristic of Europeans not Chamorros. So somewhere down the line Europeans entered into our family pool.

So one day it dawned on me, I use white sand clay to make my trees and my family comes from a white sand beach.  Sablan has a dual meaning for me, it brings my family history to what I'm doing today and that is why I chose the name Sablan.


Things I love...


Making trees of life • Exploring new places • Being in nature • World cultures • Smiling • Using a paintbrush • Labradorite rocks • Touching a  beautiful tree • Making jewelry • Old treasures at flea markets • Dip ink pens • Vintage textiles • Surfing the internet • Old carved wood • Looking for rocks • Finding seashells • Traveling & Airplanes. • Unplanned Adventures • Using   my  camera  to  capture  a  moment • Used book stores • Learning about people • Picking fresh flowers • Australian Cattle Dogs • Watching a sunsets • Playing Tibetan bowls • Knitting • Sailing •  Home vegetable gardening • Over the knee socks • Turquoise ceramics • Old monasteries • Sedona • Bringing home sticks • Bold and funky rings • Crazy couch pillows • Fountains • Anthropologie stores • My art studio • Tin Art • Linen Sheets • Sun on my face • Anything Cashmere • Chocolate  •  Folk art  • Color