The Tree of Life in the Great FLORES Tradition

Francisco Flores
Izúcar de Matamoros, Puebla

Unless fate intervenes, Francisco Flores is the last. At 73 years-old, the clay style and tradition that began with Francisco's grandparents, and surely with ancestors before them, will end with Francisco. For this reason among others, we endure the hardships involved in receiving the maestro's work.

On any given day, one can find Francisco at home in Izúcar de Matamoros, toiling with the clay in the family compound. He works in an adobe hut, poorly lighted, kneeling on a woven mat (petate) exactly as his father, Aurelio, once did.

ABOVE LEFT: The tools and workspace of Francisco Flores.
ABOVE RIGHT: Finished work waits in another corner of the workshop.

According to Francisco, he began learning the clay art from his father at ten years of age, and they worked together until Aurelio's death in 1986. Then located on the Pan-American Highway, Aurelio's in Izúcar de Matamoros was discovered and collected by adventurers motoring through Mexico. The family became well-known for their clay, and was able to make a good living throughout their lives. But, a tradition unique to Izúcar de Matamoros further insured the family's success.


ABOVE: The distinct Flores candelabra, also known as the Flores tree of life.

Francisco became animated when recalling the old days. He explained that for generations, every married couple received a tree of life at the time of their wedding ensuring that prosperity would bless the new household and union. He continued by explaining that there was always someone getting married, and therefore someone always needed a wedding tree. For years, Francisco could go to the market and trade his clay trees for avocados, chickens, and anything his family required. A cloud then passed over his face. He recounted that in the late seventies, the demand for trees diminished, and by the eighties, young couples no longer started their married lives with the traditional tree. He concluded that the modern couples now wanted televisions instead.
Francisco is literally surrounded by the very evidence of this change. In the Flores family compound, many sons and daughters live with their families…all professionals or administrators. No one desires to work the clay or even learn about the tradition. Except for assistance from his wife, Casilda, Francisco is quite literally alone when it comes to matters pertaining to clay.

ABOVE: A brilliant array of work is stored in the workshop until we arrive.

ABOVE: Each piece is carried to the porch of Francisco's
house to be packed.

ABOVE: The maestro signs his work with our urging.

ABOVE: Work on the front porch is ready to pack.

The process of picking up the finished Flores work is just that…a process. In Izúcar, it has been our experience that there are two climates; hot and very hot. When packing at the Flores household, we try not to look at the temperature knowing at times, it is well-over 100 degrees Fahrenheit. We also must bring our own boxes and newspaper which is unusual. Most artisans are anxious to sell work, and have the necessary packing materials available to expedite sales. Next, Francisco, Rick and I carry finished work to the porch of Francisco's home where packing will take place. Family members in the compound are mildly curious about what's going on, but are mere on-lookers. They have no interest in helping their elderly father carry and pack the many pieces. The grand-children, however, help make hundreds of the needed newspapers balls. The kids know that there will be Cokes and chips for helpers, and a cash tip once all is finished. In the same way that engaged couples no longer require or want a marriage tree, Francisco's own adult children are just as removed, preferring to watch television rather than participate.

ABOVE: Francisco's wife, Casilda, helps pack in the shade
of the porch.

ABOVE: More examples of Francisco Flores work, which has strong,
pre-Hispanic aspects and remains indistinguishable from his father's,
Aurelio Flores, clay work. The colors and painting, remain the same
after generations.

Despite the fact that it is OUR job to pack each Flores piece, it is more than worth the effort. Not having regular customers, we provide Francisco with a reason to continue working with each order placed, reminding him that he is still needed in this modern world. Of the adult children, there may yet be one hope for the tradition to continue. As we discussed the endangered future of the Flores tradition, the fact that Francisco, Jr. indeed knows how to make the clay surfaces in conversation. Unlike his siblings, Francisco, Jr. is currently unemployed and has the time to assist his father. As Rick and the Flores siblings urge Francisco, Jr. to join his father in making clay, Francisco, Jr. shrugs his shoulders as if to say, "Who knows? Maybe someday." Francisco senior shakes his head while staring at the ground. It is clear that there is a rift between father and son that prevents them from smiling or making eye contact at just the thought of working side by side.

ABOVE: Francisco and Rick pose after packing
a large order.

Knowing the wedding traditions of Izúcar de Matamoros, I asked Francisco and Casilda if I could have the pleasure of seeing their own wedding tree. Francisco next told us the sad story of how their wedding tree "disappeared".
During the 1950s, a group came through town from California. Francisco did not know if they were collectors, a museum, or if they owned a store. He recalls their caravan of trucks stacked high with exquisite boxes from households in Olinala, and the buyers were now proceeding to visit Izúcar households. When they arrived at the Flores home, their interest was in older pieces including Francisco's and Casilda's precious wedding tree. Not knowing what to do, Francisco turned to his father who flatly replied, "Go ahead. Sell it. We can use the money".
The buyers helped themselves to many clay items. The price for everything? Francisco was embarrassed to say. In today's money, Francisco figured the amount was the equivalent of $1,000 pesos, or less than $100.00 US dollars. Without a word spoken, we knew that Francisco regretted heeding his father's advice on that day so long ago.
Today, more than ever, we are buying, collecting, and enjoying the work of Francisco Flores. Just as Francisco and Casilda's own marriage tree disappeared, the Flores tradition, with time, will also disappear. But until that day…

May 2005.
By Debra Hall
ZOCALO Fine Folk Art
San Miguel de Allende, MEXICO
Pátzcuaro, MEXICO

NOTE: A detailed accounting of the Flores Family and the history of the Izúcar de Matamoros tradition may be read in, Where It All Began, The "Tree of Life" of Izúcar de Matamoros, Puebla, pages 50-79, by Elizabeth Snoddy Cuéllar and Luis Fernando Rodríguez Lazcano, in the book, Ceramic Trees of Life, Popular Art from Mexico, by Lenore Hoag Mulryan, UCLA Fowler Museum of Cultural History, Los Angeles, 2003.