Cueto was born María Dolores Velázquez Rivas in Azcapotzalco (now part of Mexico City) on March 2, 1897 to Juan Velázquez and Ana María Rivas.
Cueto entered the Academy of San Carlos when she was only twelve years old, as one of its first female students, breaking social norms for women at the time. She was part of a group of students with included David Alfaro Siqueiros and Andrés Audifred which rebelled against the traditional teaching methods of the Academy. It is believed that she was the first female student there to be allowed into classes drawing the nudes. Her studies at San Carlos were interrupted by the Mexican Revolution and later she entered the Escuela de Pintura al Aire Libre, also known as the Escuela de Barbizón created and directed by Alfredo Ramos Martínez .
In 1919, she married vanguard sculptor Germán Cueto. The couple was prominent in the artistic and intellectual circles of Mexico City which included Diego Rivera, Lupe Marín, Ramón Alva de la Canal, Fermín Revueltas, Germán List Arzubide, Manuel Maples Arce and Arqueles Vela . It was as this time she assumed her husband’s last name as her own (not common practice in Mexico), becoming best known as Lola (diminutive for Dolores) Cueto.
From 1927 to 1932, she lived with her husband in Paris, which allowed both of them to develop artistically. In Paris they had their first contact with hand puppet design and puppetry. Back in Mexico, they founded a puppet company and toured through the country with their puppet show. In 1936 the couple separated. Lola and Gérman Cueto had two daughters, named Ana Maria and Mireya. Mireya (b. 1922) became a well-known puppeteer, writer and playwright, winning the Bellas Artes Medal for her life’s work. Mireya began her career helping her parents.
Lola Cueto died on January 24, 1978 in Mexico City.
She was one a few women artists in Mexico, along with María Izquierdo, Olga Costa and Helen Escobedo, at a time when the field was dominated by men.
She is best known for her work in theatre, especially with puppets and marionettes for children. Germán had the idea to create marionettes and puppets when the couple lived in Paris, but it was Lola who pursued it. Most of her theatre work was related to education. She founded the Rin Run, El Nahual and El Colorín theatre companies which performed educational sketches in urban and rural areas. One of her major theatrical works was with Silvestre Revueltas from between 1933 and 1935, with a marionette ballet called “El Renacuajo Paseador.” It was presented at the Palacio de Bellas Artes in 1940.
In addition to puppets and marionettes, she had a strong interest in Mexican handcrafts and folk art, which influenced her art. Her earliest work in the early 1920s was the design and crafting of tapestry while she lived in Paris. The work received recognition at exhibitions in Paris, Barcelona and Rotterdam .
She created an early abstract sculpture. José Luis Cuevas called her the first artist in Mexico to discover abstract art.
At the end of the 1930s, she joined the Sociedad Mexicana de Grabadores and worked under Carlos Alvarado Lang. Her best work here was in mezzotint which stands out with its play on light and shadow. She created the aquatints for a 1947 book by Roberto Lago called “Títeres Populares Mexicanos” (Folk Mexican Puppets) .
She gave classes at Mexico City College. Her students included José Luis Cuevas.
She was a founding member of the Liga de Escritores y Artistas Revolucionarios, founded in her home.
She did not have many exhibitions of her work, but it was extensively written about by critics Paul Westheim and artist Jean Charlot . There was an individual exhibition of her work shortly after her death at the Salón de la Plástica Mexicana. Thirty years after that, in 2009, there was a retrospective of her work sponsored by the Instituto Nacional de Bellas Artes .
Cueto is best known for her work in children’s theatre, especially that aimed at basic literacy. Her career also included weaving, watercolors, drawings, graphic work, oils, gouache, along with the design of marionettes, puppets, theatre sets and traditional Mexican toys. (trancendencia) She is recognized as a master and innovator in the creation of marionettes and children’s theatre.
Her early paintings are rigid, generally Impressionist style landscapes. Her later visual work is focused on Mexican handcrafts and folk art both in imagery and handcraft techniques incorporated into them. One example are paintings of traditional Mexican toys, inspired by her concern of the rise of mass-produced toys in Mexico.
Although she is not considered to be an artisan, she did work with a number of traditional crafts such as lacquer, papel picado designs, embroidery and the making of traditional toys and marionettes for theatre performances.
Her notable creations include tapestries and other fabrics which have been machine embroidered. These include a series inspired by the stained glass windows of the Gothic cathedrals in Chartres and Bourges. She created a number of tapestries with religious themes such as primitive Christ and Virgin Mary images, rural altars as well as depicting indigenous people.