One of the most symbolic Mexican handicrafts is the Tree of Life, which comes from the municipality of Metepec (on the hill of magueys). This magical town is located inToluca Valley, State of Mexico, and one hour away from Mexico City.
Originally, Metepequen artisans made utensils like pots, pans, and plates. However, starting in the 1920s, they started to create crafts that were more ornamental. According to the State of Mexico’s Institute of Research and Promotion of Handicrafts, the Tree of Life has several possible beginnings. One possibility is that it was created by the anthropologist Daniel Fernando Rubín de la Borbolla and the artisan Mónico Soteno Fernández, who were inspired by a candelabrum in the city of Toluca. Although there is no record of who first created the Tree of Life, the community of artisans in Metepec gives credit to Don Timoteo González Degollado, who began to make them around 1945.
The creation of any Tree of Life is based on the process of preparing the clay. The form that the clay takes on is determined by the ingenuity of the mastercraftspeople, who give life and color to this tradition. There are two color themes that are most commonly used. The first is made up of yellow, purple, fuchsia, green, white, and black. The second uses colors like ochre, rust-red, black, brown, hazel, and rust-yellow, which are the characteristic colors of pre-Columbian pottery. Each workshop, or family, has a specialty, and they try to create pieces that identify them.
At first, the Tree of Life specifically represented the Garden of Eden, containing figures of Adam, Eve and the snake. Nowadays, however, it has a variety of themes including suns, eclipses, angels and cherubs, the Virgin Mary, Noah’s Ark, and the spring. Artisans also interpret traditions and customs from around the country such as the Virgin of Solitude (Oaxaca’s Patron Saint), Catrina, Papantla Flyers and many more.
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Text adapted and translated from:
Historias que se cuentan en un árbol
Creación del árbol de vida en el pueblo mágico de Metepec
To learn more, read this article:
Metepec: la población del Árbol de la Vida
And watch the following videos:
Manos de artesano. Árbol de la vida
Turismo cultural: Alfareros de Metepec