CERAMIC TREES OF LIFE: POPULAR ART FROM MEXICO

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Lenore Hoag Mulryan with essays by Delia A. Cosentino, Elizabeth Snoddy Cuéllar and Luis Fernando Rodríguez Lazcano, and Marta Turok

A bonanza of scholarship for tree-of-life fans.”
Los Angeles Times, May 2003

Tucked among their branches, the elaborate and colorful Mexican clay constructions known as Trees of Life may contain a range of possible scenes: pre-Hispanic cosmologies, genealogies, and rituals; biblical stories; historical vignettes; or secular events. Often fitted with candles or incense burners, they may soar to a height of twenty feet or be small enough to fit in a child’s hand. Ever increasing in popularity, by the early 1970s, the remarkable and versatile Tree of Life had become a quintessential symbol of Mexico.

In Ceramic Trees of Life: Popular Art from Mexico, Lenore Hoag Mulryan and her co-authors explore the origins of this unique Mexican art form and examine its development and contemporary manifestations. Following Mulryan’s introduction, Delia Cosentino examines pre-Hispanic tree symbolism and discusses the syncretic approach of the Spanish clergy, which actively sought to emphasize parallels between local beliefs and Catholicism. Following this examination, three essays consider the work of prominent potting families from the three major Tree of Life producing communities: Elizabeth Snoddy Cuéllar and Luis Fernando Rodríguez Lazcano examine the work of the Flores and Castillo families of Izúcar de Maramoros making the case for the origin of the Tree of Life in this community; Mulryan pays homage to the remarkable works in clay by Herón Martínez of Acatlán de Osorio and discusses in depth the trajectory of this artist’s career; and Marta Turok considers the potters of Metepec, focusing on the Soteno family, in the context of the history of Mexican popular arts.

Lavishly illustrated with magnificent examples of Trees of Life drawn from the Gerald Daniel Collection of Mexican Folk Art at the UCLA Fowler Museum of Cultural History, as well as with many stunning field shots, this volume traces the Tree of Life from its origins to its role as a vibrant symbol of a modern nation. In so doing, it also touches upon the fate of the clay artist in present-day Mexico and the impact of commodification on the popular arts, revealing the simultaneous pull of tradition and push of modernity that have developed this popular art form in the face of the changing social, economic, and political landscape of mid- to late-twentieth-century Mexico.

Lenore Hoag Mulryan has actively conducted research on Mexican ceramic art for a period of nearly twenty-five years. Her two previous Fowler publications, Mexican Figural Ceramists and Their Works (1982) and Nagual in the Garden: Fantastic Animals in Mexican Ceramics (1996) are also based upon that research.

8 x 10 inches, 168 pages
97 color and 20 b/w illustrations, 2003
ISBN 0-930741-96-X, paper, $35

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