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Oaxacan Wood 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. We buy the figurines here directly from the renowned carvers living in villages of the Oaxaca valley. Collectors prize their cheerful features and one-of-a-kind originality. The realm ofOaxacan woodcarving reflects the best of Mexico's wonderful, "made-by-hand" artistic traditions.

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


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Rabbit alebrije, by Mario Castellanos
Oaxacan carving by Mario Castellanos
Rabbit measures 8 inches long by 8" tall.
SKU: WD-1_006
Original price: $475.00
Save 21%
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
Coyote Alebrije, white/pink
Oaxacan carving by Juventino Melchor Angeles.
SIZE: 9 inches tall by 7" long. Tail detaches.
SKU: WD-1_009
Otter, grey w/white
Oaxacan wood carving by Arsenio Morales
SIZE: 11 inches tall. Features glass eyes.
SKU: WD-1_010
Sold Out
Oaxacan wood carving by Lauro Ramirez. Signed by the artist.
Ram measures 7 inches long by 8 inches tall.
SKU: WD-1_029
Rabbit Acrobat, (red-yellow), 10-inch
Oaxacan carving by Arsenio Morales.
Red rabbit measures 10 inches tall
SKU: WD-1_030
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
Armadillo, standing, by Blas Alebrijes
Oaxacan woodcarving by Rogelio Blas F.
Armadillo measures 7 inches tall by 11 inches long. Parts detach for safe shipping
SKU: WD-1_040
Sold Out
OTTER, blue/white 11-inch.
Oaxacan wood carving by Arsenio Morales.
Upright otter carving measures 11 inches tall.
SKU: WD-1_055
Bear, blue, by Mario Castellanos
Oaxacan woodcarving by Mario and Reina Castellanos
Bear measures 6 1/2 inches long.
SKU: WD-1_057
Sold Out
MINI CARVING Elephant Alebrije, multi-colors
Mini Oaxacan Wood Carving handmade in Oaxaca
Elephant measures 1 inch long by 2.5 inches tall. Hand-crafted elephants are painted in a wide variety of colors
SKU: WD-1_060
Rabbit with Big Ears, wine/yellow,10.5-inch
Oaxacan woodcarving by Arsenio Morales
Rabbit measures 10.5 inches tall. Signed by the artist.
SKU: WD-1_066
Bat Alebrije by Blas family, #1
Oaxacan Wood Carving by R. Blas.
Measures 7 inches tall, by 7" long. Wingspan is 10 inches.
SKU: WD-1_074
Rabbit with Big Ears, grey/white, 16-inch
Big rabbit carving by Arsenio Morales. Signed by artist.
Rabbit measures 16.5 inches tall.
SKU: WD-1_082
Fox, by Mario
Oaxacan carving by Mario Castellanos
SIZE: 11 inches long by 10 inches tall
SKU: WD-1_099
Sold Out
American Pit Bull w/Collar, brown/white
Oaxacan wood carving alebrije by Juventino Melchor
Dog figurine measures 6 inches long by 2 inches wide. Signed by the artist.
SKU: WD-2_04
Cat, purple #2, by Roberta Angeles
Oaxacan wood carving alebrije by Roberta Angeles
Cat measures 5 inches long. The tail detaches for shipping.
SKU: WD-2_05
Cat, tan, by Roberta Angeles
Oaxacan woodcarving by Roberta Angeles Ojeda
SIZE: 5 inches tall by 5.5" long
SKU: WD-2_07
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
Cat, purple, by Roberta Angeles
Oaxacan carving by Roberta Angeles Ojeda
Crouching, purple cat measures 5 inches long.
SKU: WD-2_13
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