Tiburcio Soteno Family
The Tiburcio Soteno (1952 - 2022) family of Metepec is one of the oldest families of artisans specializing in the ceramic sculptures called Trees of Life (Arboles de la Vida). The town of Metepec is located in the State of Mexico and is one of the most important ceramic centers in the Republic.
The Tree of Life is a colorful and refined sculpture inspired by the creation of candlesticks. The relevance of the Soteno family's work began with Modesta Fernández Mata, who was the mother, grandmother and great-grandmother of many of the family's artisans now dedicated to these pieces. She began to experiment with decorative pieces in addition to those she made for utilitarian purposes. The generations after her have improved the technique. They start as children working with their parents and grandparents.
Tiburcio and Oscar are second and third generation respectively. They have won many awards and their work is exhibited in collections around the world. Oscar Soteno is Tiburcio's nephew. Like his ancestors, he learned to work with clay as a child, specializing from a very young age in the Trees of Life. Oscar made a tree in honor of his grandmother, Modesta, who died in 1987. This winning sculpture has a figure of Modesta sitting on a chair painting a small mermaid figure.
Tiburcio says that he tries to create stories with his trees. The themes are varied and range from the religious to the erotic. He often uses characters such as the Virgin of Guadalupe or Frida Kahlo. In his workshop, you can find pieces that measure from seven centimeters to more than five meters high. Nowadays, Tiburcio tries to fill all the space of a tree without using wire, which oxidizes with time and breaks. He models almost all the pieces by hand and occasionally uses molds. He uses aniline dyes to give color.
Tiburcio's pieces are in the permanent collections of the British and Scottish Museums of Modern Art, the Lancaster Museum and several museums in France.
Originally, the Trees of Life was made to represent the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. With the "tree" in the background, the figures of Adam, Eve, the serpent and God situated at the top, commonly appeared along with other decorative details that are often dense and very complex. There are two places in Mexico where these trees are made but those of Metepec are recognized for being the most elaborate. Although Metepec is now surrounded by Mexico City to the east and very close to Toluca (capital of the State of Mexico), it still survives as a rural craft site with its workshops and use of local clay.
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