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Alebrijes

Oaxacan Carvings

Hand-carved and hand-painted, these carvings are the most sought-after folk art in Mexico. With brilliant colors and fine craftsmanship, each sculpture reflects its maker's talent, imagination and creativity. Collectors prize their cheerful features and one-of-a-kind originality. Oaxacan woodcarving is among the best of Mexico's rich, "made-by-hand" artistic traditions.

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 by Blas Family
Oaxacan woodcarving by Blas Family
Measures 8 inches tall. Multiple pieces (wings, ears, etc.) detach for safe shipping
SKU: WD-8_05
$45.00
Sold Out
Alebrije, 2.5 inches tall
Oaxacan woodcarving by Claudio Sosa
SIZE: 2 1/2 inches tall. Sent with pieces unassembled, for safe shipping
SKU: WD-8_11
$14.50
Sold Out
Alebrije, 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
Alebrije, yellow jacket
Alebrije wood figure is made in Oaxaca by Blas family
SIZE: 9.5 inches tall. Figure ships with pieces unassembled.
SKU: WD-8_07
$45.00
Qty
Alebrje, pink jacket
Oaxacan wood carving by Rogelio Blas
SIZE: 10 inches tall. Assembly required, ships in pieces
SKU: WD-8_06
$45.00
Qty
Bear, blue, by Mario Castellanos
Oaxacan woodcarving by Mario and Reina Castellanos
Bear measures 6 1/2 inches long.
SKU: WD-1_057
$229.00
Sold Out
Cat
Black cat alebrije, crowching, by Roberta Angeles.
Cat measures 5 1/2 inches long. Tail detaches.
SKU: WD-2_23
$39.00
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Cat, red, by Roberta
Oaxacan woodcarving by Roberta Angeles Ojeda. Tail detaches for shipping
Measures 5 inches tall by 5.5" long
SKU: WD-2_08
$45.00
Qty
Cat, tan, by Roberta
Oaxacan woodcarving by Roberta Angeles Ojeda
SIZE: 5 inches tall by 5.5" long
SKU: WD-2_07
$45.00
Qty
Chihuahua, yellow by Jose Olivera
Oaxacan wood carving Chihuahua by Jose Olivera
Measures 4 inches tall. Tail detaches for shipping
SKU: WD-2_18
$35.00
Qty
Chupacabre
Chupacabre, a legendary creature in folk lore, is wood figure by Blas family
SIZE: Measures 7 inches tall by 9" long
SKU: WD-8_01
$59.00
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Coyote Alebrije, dark pink
Oaxacan carving by Juventino Melchor. Signed
SIZE: 8 1/2 inches tall, by 6" long by 2 1/2" wide
SKU: WD-1_008
$109.00
Qty
Coyote Alebrije, white/pink
Oaxacan carving by Juventino Melchor Angeles.
SIZE: 9 inches tall by 7" long. Tail detaches.
SKU: WD-1_009
$109.00
Qty
Coyote, green
Oaxacan carving by "Christina"
Coyote measures 5 inches tall
SKU: WD-1_060
$14.50
Sold Out
Crab by Blas Alebrijes
Oaxacan carving by Blas Family
SIZE: 12 inches wide.
SKU: WD-4_19
$49.00
Qty
Dancing Chicken Nahuals
Oaxacan woodcarving by Ventura Fabien
Measures 7.5 inches tall
SKU: WD-6_12
$89.00
Qty
Dog w/Collar, blue with blue spots
Oaxacan wood carving by Juventino Melchor. Signed by artist
Dog measures 6 inches long by 4 3/4" tall.
SKU: WD-2_17
$85.00
Qty
Dolphins Pair
Oaxacan carvings. Two dolphins, each unique, in a different color.
SIZE: 2 3/4 inches long. Not signed. Let us choose a pair for you.
SKU: WD-4_33
$15.00
Qty
Dragon (Coatlicue)
Hand-carved and painted Oaxacan carving by Blas family
SIZE: 10 inches tall by 14" long
SKU: WD-8_02
$79.00
Sold Out
Fox, by Mario
Oaxacan carving by Mario Castellanos
SIZE: 11 inches long by 10 inches tall
SKU: WD-1_099
$369.00
Sold Out
 
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