In my office where I can enjoy glimpses of the Parroquia and the corresponding fireworks lies a false wall. The wall was, I believe, created to light (by skylights above, a fireplace below and electrical lights at night) a Tree of Live stone sculpture taken from a crumbling hacienda and placed into the wall. It is about the height and width of a stocky 5th grader.
SMA’s Trees of Life, or , are one of the most popular expressions of Mexican folk art and faith. These unique creations are normally ceramic covered with flowers, leaves and biblical figures. They typically serve as multi-decorated candelabras.
Trees of Life originated to have as a central theme the Garden of Eden and many traditionalists feel art not about Adam and Eve are not technically Trees of Life. However, nowadays many other stories are recounted through these splendid clay sculptures…Mexico’s history, the Day of the Dead, The Nativity, Virgin of Guadalupe, Noah’s Ark, or mermaids. Some Trees of Life are even autobiographical, telling the potter’s or the customer’s own story in a ceramic tree with neon colored people and events.
SMA’s Trees of Life can be traced back to the early colonial period when Spanish Friars destroyed any image of the old gods, and commissioned the indigenous potters to create candelabras with Adam and Eve. It was a way of teaching the Catholic faith to the indigenous incorporating elements of their culture into the tree.
Traditionally at the top of the sculpture, an image of God is placed. Underneath are images in relation with the creation of the world in seven days, such as the sun and moon, the animals and Adam and Eve. The serpent from the Biblical story also appears, as does the Archangel Gabriel at the bottom, who casts out Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden. However, here in SMA Gabriel is frequently pushed aside to have the local favorite archangel, Michael, in the place of honor.
A Tree of Life if still considered an auspicious wedding gift to ensure the new couple a good harvest not only of children, but to their livelihood in a farming community.
Meanwhile Trees of Life continue to sell well here and throughout Mexico to find new soil to grow in around the world. A tree of life even appears on the cover of the Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album by The Beatles.