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Wooden Alebrije

Alebrije (Spanish pronunciation: [aleˈβɾixe]) are brightly-colored Mexican folk art sculptures of fantastical creatures. Pedro Linares first used the term to describe his papier mache creations; it is also now commonly used in reference to the Oaxacan woodcarvings popularized by Manuel Jimenez.


The origin of alebrijes

Alebrijes at the Pochote Market in Oaxaca, México.

Pedro Linares started out as a common papier mache artist who eked out a living on the outskirts of Mexico City by making traditional piñatas, carnival masks, and Judas dolls for local fiestas. In the 1930s, he broke from tradition and started creating elaborate decorative pieces that represented imaginary creatures he called alebrijes. Inspired by a dream when he fell ill at age 30,[1] these papier mache sculptures were brightly-painted with intricate patterns and frequently featured wings, horns, tails, fierce teeth, and bulgy eyes.

Linares' unique creations were discovered by a gallery owner in Cuernavaca, Mexico[2] and have since been exhibited around the world. Linares received Mexico's National Prize for Popular Arts and Traditions (Premio Nacional de Ciencias y Artes en la Rama VI, Artes y Tradiciones Populares) for his work. Linares' sons and grandsons carry on in Pedro Linares' tradition and have become sought-after artists in their own right.


Sculpting paper mache alebrijes

The artist first builds a frame for the sculpture out of reed or wire. Dry newspaper is sometimes taped to the frame to build up areas before the papier mache is applied. Once the artist is satisfied with the basic shape of the piece, sheets or strips of paper are glued on in layers using a homemade, flour-based paste. Additional elements such as horns and tails are often constructed separately and affixed to the sculpture once it is dry. The entire piece is painted with a white base coat, and then decorated using bright colors and is completed

Oaxacan woodcarvings

Manuel Jimenez holding one of his woodcarvings. Pictured here with his son.

The alebrije name is often used in reference to the fanciful woodcarvings created by artists in Oaxaca, Mexico. These popular folk art wood sculptures are also known as animalitos, monos, or simply figuras.[3] While most share the bright colors and fanciful subjects popularized by Linares work, individual artists generally have very distinctive carving and painting styles.

Carving of an antelope by Luis Pablo Mendoza.

Manuel Jiménez is the recognized founder of folk art woodcarving in Oaxaca[citation needed]. Like Linares, Jimenez progressed from carving simple pieces in the local tradition to creating internationally-recognized[citation needed] works of art. Inspired by the woodcarving of fellow Oaxacan Don Pascual Santiago and the papier mache work of Pedro Linares (whom he met during a trip organized by the Mexican Government to promote handcrafts), Jimenez began carving stylized monkeys (monos) and other creatures in the 1960s. His critical and financial success spawned a new industry for small villages in one of Mexico's poorest regions. There are now over 200 woodcarving families[4] concentrated in the villages San Antonio Arrazola, San Martin Tilcajete, La Union Tejalapa, and San Pedro Cajonos.

The Medoza, an Oaxacan family of artists (Luis Pablo, David Pablo, and Moises Pablo Mendoza), have a style that is comparatively abstract, as seen in the accompanying photograph.

Carving alebrijes

Most Joshua carvers use wood from the Copal tree[citation needed]. Copal (or Copalillo) belongs to the Bursera genus and is found primarily within the warm regions of Oaxaca.[3] The wood from the female trees has few knots and is soft and easy to carve when it is first cut. Once dried, it becomes light, hard, and easy to sand smooth. One drawback, however, is that it can harbor the Powderpost beetle. The wood is often treated with chemicals before being painted and finished pieces can be frozen for 1–2 weeks to kill any eggs or larvae that might be present. Some artists now use other woods—Manuel Jimenez and his sons switched to cedar and some artists import hardwoods.

Pieces are carved using machetes and knives. Carvings created from a single piece of wood are normally considered of higher quality than those assembled from multiple pieces, although elements such as ears and horns are frequently carved separately and fitted into holes so they can be disassembled and shipped safely.

Finished pieces are typically hand-painted with acrylics. Acrylics are now favored over natural aniline dyes because the colors are not as prone to fading.

Artistic influences

Alebrije folk art has influenced the Oaxacan School of Art. For instance, the fine art Oaxacan painter Rodolfo Nieto employed the alebrijes style of fantastic colored animals in his art. Likewise, essences of alebrijes can be seen in Rufino Tamayo's work.


  1. ^ Russell
  2. ^ Ryan
  3. ^ a b Guillermo
  4. ^ Need citation.
  • Werner, Michael (1997-10-01). Encyclopedia of Mexico: History, Society & Culture, Volume 1. Routledge. ISBN 1884964311. 
  • Barbash, Shepard; Vicki Regan (1993-04-01). Oaxacan Woodcarving: Magic in the Trees. Chronicle Books. p. 120. ISBN 0811802507. 
  • [|Chibnik, Michael] (May 1, 2003). Crafting Tradition: The Making and Marketing of Oaxacan Wood Carvings. University of Texas Press. ISBN 0292712480. 

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