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Alebrijes

Oaxacan Wood Carvings

Hand-carved and then painted in cheerful colors, these alebrije carvings are the most sought-after folk art in Mexico. Each finely-crafted sculpture reflects its maker's talent and imagination. We buy our figurines directly from carvers living in villages of the Oaxaca valley. Most are signed by the artists. In most wood-carving families, the husband does the carving and whittling, children sand the figurines to a smooth finish, and it is often the wives who paint the finely-detailed patterns. The realm of Oaxacan woodcarving reflects the best of Mexico's wonderful, "made-by-hand" artistic traditions. For more details, download our promotional flyer at this link.

Alebrijes - Colorful Folk Art Wood Carvings from Oaxaca

Alebrijes, those vivid and whimsical wooden figures handmade by artisans in Oaxaca, are the most prized of all the Mexican crafts. They are a subset of a wide range of Oaxaca carvings. They are typically the most colorful, the most outlandish, imaginary and fantastical of the Oaxacan carvings - the ones painted with the most detailed patterns of stripes, dots, geometric shapes, flowers and flames. Sometimes the creature will have two heads. Sometimes it could have the face of a lion and the feet of a flamingo or some other strange combination of species and body parts. If it lives in an artist's dreams or hallucinations, it's probably an alebrije.

While the Mexican craft traditions date back to the 1500s, evolving from the fusion of the ancient indigenous techniques and design with those of the conquering Spanish, the art of the alebrijes is far more recent.

Where does the term "alebrije" come from?

The original figures sprung from a series of fevered, hallucinatory dreams that a 30-year-old Mexican papier-maché artist, Pedro Linares, had in 1936. In his dreams, these strange creatures would chant at him with a word he later recalled as "alebrije. Later, recovered from his illness, the artist started crafting these large, strange creatures in papier-maché. It wasn't long before these wild figures caught the attention of a gallery owner in Cuernavaca. Soon his work was acclaimed by the likes of Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, who commissioned him to make more. Eventually, Linares' work was celebrated throughout Mexico. Before his death in 1992, he was Mexico's National Arts and Sciences Award in Popular Arts and Traditions.

Meet Manuel Jimenez, originator of the Oaxacan alebrije carvings

Down in Southern Mexico, in the village of Arrazola, which sits at the foot of the famed Monte Alban archaeological site, an peasant named Manuel Jiménez had been carving wood figures since his boyhood in the 1920s. His early figures were masks and small farm animals, which he would often sell outside the gates to Monte Alban. In the 1970s, after having an opportunity to meet Linares, Jimenez started to add the fantastical elements of the alebrijes to his carvings, which he was now making out of softwood from a scrub tree called copal. The effect revolutionized the carving craft. Jimenez quickly found a ready market for his figures in the street markets of Oaxaca City. Eventually the carving caught on with farmers and campesinos in other towns -- La Union Tejalapam and San Martin Tilcajete. Soon, the wooden creatures became sought-after by collectors throughout North America and beyond. After Smithsonian Magazine did a cover story on alebrijes in 1987, they became widely seen as traditional Oaxacan folk art creations.

Today, most carvers are not Zapotec, and the art form is neither centuries' old nor a creation of indigenous peoples. Yet Oaxacan wood carvings are the most celebrated and collected of all Mexican Folk Art. Interesting, the raw material, copal wood, has other uses that do go back to ancient times. The sap is used for an array of medical purposes, such as treating scorpion bites, relieving acne and treating cold symptoms. The hardened resin is also burned in churches and cemeteries during religious services with the smoke producing a distinctive fruity fragrance. Burning copal resin is an essential part of both ancient and modern Day of the Dead celebrations.

There is an interesting division of labor that I have seen repeatedly within the families making Oaxacan carvings. The gathering, chopping and carving of the wood is done by males, both men and boys. After the initial rough carving, the wood is left to day, often for several months. Then the sanding, a low-skill and boring part of the job, is done by children. The most creative and painstaking part, the elaborate and delicate painting of the figures, is done by women. In decades past, the carvings were signed only by the male head of the family. I have noticed a nice trend in recent years that more and more of the carvings bear the names of both the husband and wife.

Phil Saviano

Products

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Alebrije, Oaxacan Wood Carving by Blas family, 8-inch tall
Alebrije wood figure is made in Oaxaca by Blas family. Each is a unique color pattern.
SIZE: 8 inches tall. No two are alike. Easy assembly of ears, tail, wings required.
SKU: WD-8_07
$45.00
Qty
Alebrije, Oaxacan Wood Carving by Juventino Melchor, 5.5 inch tall
Alebrije carving made by Juventino Melchor
SIZE: 5 1/2 inches tall. Ships unassembled. These figures come in a variety of colors and patterns. Each is one-of-a-kind.
SKU: WD-8_08
$39.00
Qty
Armadillo, standing, Oaxacan Wood Carving by Blas Alebrijes
Oaxacan woodcarving by Rogelio Blas F.
Armadillo measures 8 inches tall by 12 inches long with tail. Parts detach for safe shipping. Paint colors and patterns may vary from the carving shown.
SKU: WD-1_040
$89.00
Qty
Bat, Oaxacan Wood Carving, brown/green
Oaxacan woodcarving by Lauro Ramirez
Bat measures 5.5 inches tall with wingspan of 11 inches
SKU: WD-1_018
$129.00
Qty
Bat, Oaxacan Wood Carving, grey with orange wings
Oaxacan woodcarving by Lauro Ramirez and Griselda Morales
Wooden bat measures 5.5 inches tall with 12" wingspan
SKU: WD-1_013
$129.00
Qty
Cat, Oaxaca Alebrije Carving, green, by Roberta Angels
Sitting, green cat is by Roberta Angeles.
Cat measures 5 1/2 inch tall. Tail detaches for shipping.
SKU: WD-2_26
$45.00
Sold Out
Cat, Oaxaca Alebrije Carving, red, by Roberta Angeles
Oaxacan wood carving by Roberta Angeles
Curious cat is 5 1/2 inches tall. Tail detaches for shipping
SKU: WD-2_14
$45.00
Qty
Cat, red, by Roberta Angeles
Oaxacan woodcarving by Roberta Angeles Ojeda. Tail detaches for shipping
Measures 5 inches tall by 5.5" long
SKU: WD-2_08
$45.00
Sold Out
Chupacabra #2, Oaxaca Alebrije Carving by Rogelio Blas F.
Colorful chupacabra, legendary creature of folklore, is made by Rogelio Blas F.
Chupacabra alebrije measures 15 inches long, by 10" tall with 7 1/2" wingspan. All parts disconnect for safe shipping.
SKU: WD-1_057
$119.00
Qty
Coyote, Alebrije Wood Carving, white/pink
Oaxacan carving by Juventino Melchor Angeles.
SIZE: 7.5 inches tall by 7" long. Tail detaches for shipping
SKU: WD-1_009
$89.00
Qty
Crab, Oaxacan Wood Carving by Blas Alebrijes, 7-inch
Oaxacan carving by Rogelio Blas
Crab measures nearly 7 inches wide at big claws.
SKU: WD-4_05
$42.50
Qty
Dancing Chicken Nahuals
Oaxacan woodcarving by Ventura Fabien
Measures 7.5 inches tall
SKU: WD-6_12
$89.00
Sold Out
Dog, American Pit Bull, Oaxacan Wood Carving, blue
Oaxacan dog carving by Juventino Melchor
Measures 6 inches long. Signed by artist.
SKU: WD-2_21
$69.00
Qty
Fox, by Mario
Oaxacan carving by Mario Castellanos
SIZE: 11 inches long by 10 inches tall
SKU: WD-1_099
$369.00
Sold Out
Guisano Worm on Leaf, Oaxacan Wood Carving
Oaxacan Wood Carving is handmade by Blas family
Measures 6 inches long
SKU: WD-5_07
$39.00
Qty
Honeybee, Oaxacan Wood Carving by Blas Family
Oaxaca woodcarving by Blas family
Bee measures 8 inches long by 8.5 tall
SKU: WD-5_02
$59.00
Sold Out
MINI CARVING - Armadillo Alebrije, multi-colors
Mini armadillo wood carving made by Joaquin Hernandez in Oaxaca, Mexico
Armadillo measures 2 1/2 inches long and comes in an array of bright colors. Tail detaches for shipping.
SKU: WD-8_05
$9.95
Qty
MINI CARVING - Coyote Alebrije, multi-colors
Mini coyote alebrije is made by Joaquin Hernandez
Coyote measures 2 inches tall by 1.5" long.
SKU: WD-8_04
$9.95
Qty
MINI CARVING - Dog Alebrije, multi-colors
Little dog wood carving is by Joaquin Hernandez
Little dog carving measures 2 inches tall. Tail detaches for shipping.
SKU: WD-8_15
$8.95
Qty
MINI CARVING - Fish Alebrije, multi-colors
Oaxacan wood carving by Joaquin Hernandez.
Fish measures 2 1/2 inches long and comes in an array of colors.
SKU: WD-8_06
$9.95
Qty
 
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