Trees of Life: Symbols of Abundance
By Susan Page
Some form of the “tree of life” has been found in all Mesoamerican cultures, including the Aztec, Maya, Mixtec, and Olmec, and continues to be a strong theme in Mexican folk art today. It is a symbol of the abundance of the universe, depicting the connection between heaven and earth, the four sacred directions, and the lineage of humankind.
Trees of Life in Mexican Folk Art
Sat, Jul 25, and Sun, Jul 26, 12-5pm
Trees of life that appear in Mesoamerican codices always have a reference to the four sacred directions, a way of honoring and bringing together the diversity of the world and of humankind.
In contemporary Mexican folk art, the tree of life has become a kind of “canvas” for artists to present a variety of subjects, from daily life in the village, to indigenous dress and traditions, to folk art from all parts of Mexico. Many include religious themes or show off the mermaid who, because she represents both land and sea, becomes a symbol of the duality of the universe.
Today, three towns in Mexico are most well known for their trees of life. All of these towns and artists are well represented in the gallery. Most people associate trees of life with Metepec in the State of Mexico, where many families create detailed, busy, colorful creations from tiny to enormous. They are made up of hundreds of small flowers and figures that are both beautiful and stunning to behold.
Heron Martínez, who died in 1990, started the tradition of trees of life in Acatlán, Puebla. His work is highly collectible. Several families have carried on the tradition he started. The work is distinctive because the clay is burnished but left with its natural color, which ranges from brown to dark red. Acatlán trees of life are beautifully proportioned, with themes such as mermaids, peacocks, and other animals, and Adam and Eve.
The most famous family in Izucar de Matamoros, the other town famous for its trees of life, is the Castillo family. Their works are very expensive. But other families make equally beautiful work, more in an everyday price range. Galería Atotonilco carries a wide range of beautiful works by the Balbuena family from Izucar.
From the small town of Santa Cruz de las Huertas in Jalisco, Gerardo Ortega creates everything from dogs flying airplanes to stacks of animals; he has also begun to create wonderful trees of life.
Join us in the gallery for an open house, Saturday and Sunday, July 25 and 26, from 12pm to 5pm each day. We carry a wide variety of folk art, vintage photographs, textiles, and more. We recently acquired a collection of photos of San Miguel in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, when it was still a tiny town with no outlying colonias!