Jesus Torres was born in Silao, Guanajuato, Mexico on June 29th, 1898. Known for its rich arts and crafts community, the village of Silao was central for artists and craftsmen, including Torres’ own father who made and sold leather material and goods. The omnipresence of creative self- sufficiency and production would foreshadow Jesus Torres’ own success.
In 1924, Torres and his wife Maria Francisca Araujo traveled via Golden State Line towards the United States in search for better job opportunities. Initially settling in Texas, the couple moved according to the prospect of work. Maria found employment in Domestic labor and Jesus worked in road maintenance. Torres’ small frame however, made it difficult for him to adhere to the physical demands of labor. His niece in fact described his hands as “small, sensitive and fragile.”
The couple moved around Texas with relatives for a few years until opportunities began to wane. They eventually moved to St. Paul, Minnesota and found work within the sugar beet industry. Assigned to various farms, the two worked under the beating sun for hours, harvesting for the run of the season. It was within the farm that a fellow laborer suggested the two look for work in Chicago, an industrious city with abundant opportunities and better pay. The friend was right, Chicago did have more opportunities for upwards mobility. Maria found a job that she enjoyed and excelled in, however Jesus struggled to find a sustainable position working in railroad construction. It was at this time that Torres enrolled in English and art classes at the Jane Addams Settlement home, making work alongside fellow Mexican Immigrant artists Miguel Juarez, Jose Ruíz and Hilarion Tinoco. The artists soon became teachers themselves and exhibiting their works at galleries and museums around the nation.
As the economy floundered, Jesus left the Hull House and continued making work using material that was readily available, including dental instruments and recycled tin from canned food.
In 1936, Torres was selected as the primary artist assistant in the development of the Carl Street Studios on 155 W. Burton Place. Torres designed the interiors and the ceramic tile design of the home, as well as the carved doors and copper crown using Aztec motifs and design elements that contrasted the impulse of Miller’s craft.
The success of the partnership brought attention to the artist who would soon acquire a following of his own.
Torres continued designing interior spaces within Chicago and cities neighboring, rendering restaurants, department store windows and museums. Torres would also design decorative objects such as lamps, head masks and even jewelry!
In 1940, the modest artist was comissioned to design the interiors of 5 railway cars for the Rock Island- Southern Pacific Railway. The cars carried passengers on various routes throughout the southwest, California and Mexico, including Mexican immigrants traveling from Mexico to the United States, mirroring the immigrant experience of Jesus and Maria’s immigration in 1924.
T0rres spent an average of 150 days constructing the Mexican themed cars. Vermillion green walls with murals of Mexican landscapes and adobe fountain heads are lined by Copper trims and carved furniture.
Jesus Torres went on to become a fine metal and wood craftsman who used his skills and techniques to adapt to American culture. Torres learned English, became a citizen and excelled in his trade. His work fused together his creative knowledge from
his upbringing in the traditional craft community of Mexico, to the rigor of works developed within the industrial city of Chicago. Torres created marketable objects for American consumers who expressed budding interest in Mexican Modernism and folk culture. The hybridity of the objects rendered reflected the immigrants’ experience of adjusting to a new social landscape.
“Torres’ success was to bridge his version of the popular culture of his homeland with the with the European Bourgeoisie culture of the United States. Unlike Diego Rivera, he approached his craft as a “Mexican- born Indian” who had professional aesthetic training in the United States, focusing on pre-colonial imagery rather than revolutionary themes.”