Metepec, a "typical city" in the center of the Toluca Valley, boasts a long-standing pottery tradition dating back to the pre-Hispanic era. Artifacts such as pots, molcajetes, plates, cups, and cajetes have been discovered on its hills, providing evidence of the Matlatzinca people's presence.
The city's recognition as a hub for artisanal work has not only strengthened its identity but also generated significant economic activity. The tenacity of Metepec's artisans lies in their ability to preserve traditions that give meaning to their lives while creating novel artisanal forms from secular symbols.
The Mermaid: A Symbol of Lake Mythology
One such emblematic figure in Metepec's pottery is the mermaid. Inspired by an oral story about the Tlanchana or Clanchana, this snake-woman or fish-woman is a character native to the riverside towns of the Lerma River basin. Researchers Janneth Ortiz Flores and Marco Aurelio Chávezmaya note that the mermaid captured in clay represents a piece of lake mythology, central to which is "Atl Chane, the lady of the lagoon." She is described as dark and beautiful, with long braids, a plume, and a medallion of flowers. Atl Chane possesses the power to give the good and bad of water, acting as a dual mother who either feeds her children or takes them to the center of the lagoon to perish.
Antonio Huitrón and "Stoic Pottery"
In the early 1960s, jurist and historian Antonio Huitrón introduced the term "stoic pottery" to describe Metepec's artisans' work. He alluded to their resilience in the face of a hostile environment without legal and economic protection. In his book "Metepec, Misery and Greatness of Clay," Huitrón praised the artisans' creative freedom, the impressive colors that excite the spirit, and the blend of paganism and Christianity in their pottery.
The Birth of the Tree of Life
Around the time Huitrón's work was published, the handcrafted object that has become not only a symbol of Metepec but also the State of Mexico was taking shape: the tree of life. This artifact exemplifies the confluence of tradition and innovation, with anthropologist Daniel Fernando Rubín de la Borbolla and Metepec artisan Mónico Soteno Fernández credited as the co-creators.
The tree of life originated from an idea suggested by Rubín de la Borbolla, who asked the artisans to create a tree with figures used to cure "air diseases." Mónico Soteno Fernández and his brother Alfonso developed various tree designs, including the tree of life, the tree of death, the tree of spring, the tree of the Virgin, and the tree of the Nativity.
The Evolving Nature of Pottery
The tree of life symbolizes the marriage of tradition and innovation, a blend that characterizes not only pottery and ceramics but also the different artisan branches in the State of Mexico and across the country. Over time, the creation process has evolved, with older trees being mostly handmade and modern ones often molded.
In conclusion, Metepec's pottery tradition is a remarkable example of the fusion of history, culture, and creativity. The artisans' perseverance in preserving their heritage while embracing innovation has shaped a unique and vibrant art form that resonates with people far beyond the borders of the Toluca Valley.
In-Text Citation: Artesanía Mexiquense, La Magia De Nuestra Gente. 1st ed., Mexico, Gobierno del Estado de México, 2006.