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Soledad Martha Hernández De Castillo | Taller Alfonso Castillo

Puebla's Tree of Life

Soledad Martha Hernández de Castillo came from humble beginnings. She was born in Izúcar de Matamoros, a renowned pottery center in Puebla, Mexico. Before discovering her talent as an artist, she worked a variety of odd jobs; dropping out of primary school to help her parents, Soldad worked as a cook, nanny, and dressmaker. Even after meeting her husband, Alfonso Castillo—one of the Great Masters of Mexican Folk Art—the couple continued to struggle, attempting various ventures including a small dairy, cultivating plants, and running a restaurant to support their five children. At the same time, the couple shared a love of ceramic sculpture, creating whenever they could. Eventually, through Soledad’s hard work and Alfonso’s expertise, the family built a sustainable business as artists, gaining recognition for their work in museums and by collectors around the world. 

The Castillo family has been creating folk art for generations, and their work is steeped in tradition and culture. Their 32-artist family business is famous for producing elaborate hand-crafted folk art sculptures that honor their ancestors and celebrate their community. Originally, the family made items such as candelabras, incense burners, and Dia de los Muertos figures for local ceremonies and fiestas. As a means of earning income, they began experimenting with vivid colors and unique design elements. Perhaps the most enchanting of their pieces are their Arboles de la Vida, Trees of Life, which the Castillo family has been making for over 200 years. These complex, colorful branching sculptures are traditionally given as wedding gifts, but may function as an eye-catching centerpiece in any setting.

Inspired by her struggles as a young woman, Soledad is devoted to passing on her skills to young people in her community. Every year the Castillos welcome new apprentices to their workshop. Soledad says, “Our communities benefit from creating art that open jobs [which] also benefit others from buying art materials, food, water, housing, […] and anything else that is needed to keep workshops [running].”