For anyone who’s ever fantasized about owning a zoo, but considered themselves a little too sensible to take the plunge, the animal creations of Mario Lopez Torres and Sergio Bustamante are your low-maintenance Zootopia dreams come true. Crafted of wicker (Lopez Torres) and a mix of metals (Bustamante), these artisan animals are prime for imbuing even the tamest of interiors with a touch of the wild side. As interior designers continue to embrace everything Animalia—from Scalamandre’s tiger stripes to La Barge’s brass-hoofed coffee tables—Mario Torres Lopez and Sergio Bustamante’s animals are only gaining traction (Martha Stewart is rumored to be among Bustamante’s biggest fans). With prices climbing, and next-level collector’s status near guaranteed, here’s everything you need to know about these two Mexican-born animal masters and their bevy of beasts.
Mario Lopez Torres
Born in Mexico City in 1952, Torres showed a knack for the arts early on, including clay modeling and engraving. After graduation, Torres moved to Altepexi to attend fine arts school, where he studied traditional weaving techniques. It was there that he first began integrating weaving with metal frames.
Encouraged by his initial experiments, Torres traveled to the United States in the early 1970s to acquire commercial welding tools. Upon his return to Mexico, Torres and his wife Elena settled in the craft-centric region of Ihuatzio, Michoacán, and opened a workshop, Tzumindi, not far from the banks of Lake Pátzcuaro.
Among the most surprising facts for the newly initiated to learn about Torres is that he doesn’t actually use wicker to construct his pieces. Rather, Torres employs an ancient Michoacán tradition known as chuspata weaving. Chapusta, a pliable tubular reed, similar in appearance and texture to tule, grows in thickets on the edge of Lake Pátzcuaro. Although the Michoacán people have used the method to create baskets for centuries, Lopez actually uses a variation of the process, which originated in the Philippines and was first introduced to him by way of a Texan handcrafts dealer.
Today, Torres’s workshop creates a wide assortment of furniture and décor—pay a visit to the Tzumindi website and you’ll find everything from Christmas trees to headboards. But it’s his animal pieces, everything from sculptures to folding screens to children’s rockers, that have gained the primary attention from collectors and interior designers. As the interest in unique statement pieces continues to mount, Torres’s animals fit the demand hand-in-glove style. And since nearly all of the animals featured in Torres’s work are native to Latin America—monkeys, coyotes, jaguars (a tourist favorite), and parrots all frequently pop up in his work, as do Mexico’s more domestic mammalians such as pigs, rabbits and wild dogs—his creations can also lend spaces a global note.
The success of Mario Lopez Torres has brought about a revolution in Michoacán. As tourists continue to trickle in in search of Mario Lopez Torres animals, local Michoacáns, even those not associated with Torres’s guild, have taken up chapusta weaving. To this effect, Torres is revered for reinvigorating the local economy and providing a craft in which the entire community can take part.
Where You’ll Find Mario Lopez Torres Animals Today: Thanks to their wicker-like appearance, Mario Torres Lopez animals are a shoo-in for coastal interior with a pretty, raffish twist. Florida-based designers Celerie Kemble (who reportedly has a weakness for Torres’s pig footstools) and Amanda Lindroth have both used Mario Lopez Torres décor as whimsical counterpoint to traditional beach house décor. An impressive elephant screen by Torres also makes an appearance in Dallas designer Amy Berry’s urban-coastal dining room.
For those who find Mario Torres Lopez’s animal a bit on the crafty side, the polish of Sergio Bustamante’s animals is a welcome counterpoint. Born in Culiacan, in the state of Sinaola, Mexico, Bustamante relocated to the Guadalajara area following the death of his parents. Left in the care of his uncle, Bustamante was left to follow his creative passions. After graduating with a degree in architecture from the University of Guadalajara, Bustamante began to dabble with more tactile crafts such as paper mache and painting, even traveling to Amsterdam to further his training.
Upon his return to Mexico, Bustamante established the “Family Workshop Studio” in Tlaquepaque, Jalisco. An experimental studio of sorts, Bustamante soon discovered a passion for metal. He began using it to create folk style art with a modern twist. Among his earliest pieces were a variety of brass animal sculptures inspired by Mexico’s native wildlife, including squirrels, dolphins, and macaws. Which isn’t to say you won’t find Bustamante often going off script with a lion, zebra or even a giraffe on occasion.
Despite the prevalence of brass animals on the Mid 20th Century Market, Bustamante’s had notable differences. Among them, Bustamante’s animals are almost always large in scale to life-sized. They’re also completely hollow inside, making them deceptively mobile despite their size. And while some are smooth in appearance, most feature etched, segmented surfaces. The puzzle-like distortion lends the pieces a surrealist edge, which is a hallmark of Bustamante’s other, ceramic folk art.
In contrast to Mario Lopez Torres’s pieces which typically fetch steady prices no matter the style, Sergio Bustamante’s pieces vary more due to the deviations among their sizes and materials. Chief among the variances you’re likely to encounter are mixed metals (think a zebra with alternating brass and copper stripes), or ceramic or paper mache components fused with metal. Bustamante often utilized the latter to convey the difference between shell and skin among armored reptilians like iguanas or turtles. The mix in mediums also allowed for Bustamante to integrate color into his animals, upping their artistic expression.
Where You’ll Find Sergio Bustamante Animals Today: The theatrical quality of Bustamante’s creatures has earned them spots everywhere from Bergdorf Goodman’s 2011 NYC Holiday window to the personal collections of government dignitaries visiting Mexico (the Mexican government has been known to gift Bustamante’s animals to touring officials). The Bergdorf display, known as “Carnival of the Animals,” aptly displayed the animals’ abilities to transcend style or era, illustrating just how versatile Bustamante’s creatures really are.
Lead photo courtesy of Talisman London