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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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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
MINI CARVING - Guisano Worm
Mini guisano worm, Oaxacan wood carving

Worm measures 3 inches long. Colors may vary from photos shown, each worm is one of a kind.
SKU: WD-8_25
$8.95
Qty
MINI CARVING - Owl Alebrije, multi-colors
Little owl wood carving by Joaquin Hernandez comes in a variety of colors.
Owl measures 1 1/4 inches tall.
SKU: WD-8_01
$8.95
Qty
MINI CARVING - Pig Alebrije, multi-colors
Pig alebrije made in an array of colors by Oaxacan carver Joaquin Hernandez
Little pig measures 2 inches long.
SKU: WD-8_16
$9.95
Qty
MINI CARVING - Turtle Alebrije, multi-colors
Hand-carved and painted Oaxacan carving by Joaquin Hernandez
Turtle measures 2 inches long.
SKU: WD-8_02
$8.95
Qty
MINI OAXACAN CARVINGS, Set #1 - Five Alebrije Figures
Collection of miniature carvings includes owl, dog, elephant, porcupine and frog. Individual colors may vary from photos
Each carving measures 2 inches, approximately. Each piece is in a separate, sealed plastic bag. Great for stuffing stockings!
SKU: WD-8_14
$39.00
Qty
MINI OAXACAN CARVINGS, Set #2 - Five Alebrije Figures
Collection of 5 little carvings: coyote, fish, ladybug, cat and chicken. Colors of individual pieces may vary from photos
5 different figures, measure 1.5 - 2.5 inches long. Each carving is sealed in separate plastic bag; perfect for stocking stuffing.
SKU: WD-8_03
$39.00
Qty
Nahual Cat Saxophonist, Oaxacan Wood Carving
Nahual Cat Oaxacan carving by Juventino Melchor
Measures 7 1/2 inches tall. Cats are hand-crafted figures, in various colors.
SKU: WD-6_17
$59.00
Qty
Nahual Dog Tuba Player, Oaxacan Wood Carving
Dog musician tuba player, a Oaxacan nahual wood carving by Juventino Melchor
Measures 9 1/2 inches tall
SKU: WD-6_09
$59.00
Qty
Nahual Toucan Playing Maracas, Oaxacan Wood Carving
Oaxacan carving by Juventino Melchor
Measures 7.5 inches tall
SKU: WD-6_13
$59.00
Qty
Otter, grey w/white
Oaxacan wood carving by Arsenio Morales
SIZE: 11 inches tall. Features glass eyes.
SKU: WD-1_010
$109.00
Sold Out
Porcupine Wood Figurine, red quills, 3.5-inch
Oaxacan woodcarving alebrije by Josue Ortoha
SIZE: 3.5 inches in diameter. Signed by the artist.
SKU: WD-1_076
$22.50
Qty
Rabbit Acrobat, (red-yellow), 10-inch
Oaxacan carving by Arsenio Morales.
Red rabbit measures 10 inches tall
SKU: WD-1_030
$95.00
Sold Out
Rabbit Musician, Alebrije Carving
Nahual rabbit clarinetist carving by Juventino Melchor
Rabbit measures 8 inches tall. Signed by the artist.
SKU: WD-6_16
$59.00
Sold Out
Rabbit with Big Ears, Oaxacan Wood Carving, grey/white, 16-inch
Big rabbit carving by Arsenio Morales. Signed by artist.
Rabbit measures 16.5 inches tall.
SKU: WD-1_082
$145.00
Sold Out
Rabbit, white with mustard-yellow ears
Oaxacan carving by Lauro Ramirez and Griselda Morales.
Rabbit measures 6 inches long by 8 1/2" tall.
SKU: WD-1_039
$119.00
Sold Out
 
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