The Mexican Tree of Life: the history of the world made of clay

Distinguished by their colorful images and complex production processes, Mexican handicrafts have enchanted the world with their unique art.

One clear example of this is the Mexican Trees of Life (Árbol de la Vida), colorful sculptures made of clay, traditionally elaborated in mountainous regions in Mexico.

These trees represent the fusion of pre-Hispanic and European elements, integrating the colors and artisanal processes of the indigenous peoples and the religious themes characteristic of the Spaniards.

Born in Puebla and becoming a tradition in the Pueblo Mágico of Metepec, State of Mexico, the Tree of Life is a work that shows the syncretism of pre-Hispanic and Christian religions, a sculpture made up of biblical elements starting from the Garden of Eden, the forbidden fruit, Adam and Eve and of course the serpent, although over the years variations have been made thanks to the creativity of the artisans.

For its elaboration, the artisans use clay working techniques, existing since pre-Hispanic times. It is an impressive process, for the preparation of the clay they collect in the fields the plumilla, which gives the consistency to the clay. Then begins the assembly of the tree structure, covered with flowers, leaves, human figures, divine characters and even beings from beyond the grave. Once decorated, it is baked in a wood or gas oven.

They come in various sizes and nowadays different works have been developed that reflect concepts such as duality, the femininity of Eve or death in Mexico.

As previously mentioned, there are variations of the tree of life which are divided into three basic elements that symbolize life, death, and spring.

The first one contains god the father and the holy spirit, the second contains the Calaca and the third symbolizes spring and nature, this one has the monarch butterfly which means transformation.

These are three very important trees within the Mexican culture and that is why we should have them in our home.”(Romero, Y. 2019).

One of the most well-known and outstanding artisan families in Metepec is the Soteno family, famous nationally and internationally for their pieces, characterized by the use of yellow and red clay, as well as 100% handmade modeling.

In its beginnings, the tree of life was given as a gift for newlyweds, as it is a symbol of fertility. However, over time it has been commercialized as a decorative object without religious purposes.

By Sofía Navarro.

TYT Newsroom