What is today popularly classified as Oaxaca wood carvings, otherwise called alebrijes wood carvings, are a perfect example of the vibrancy, fancy, and joy that infuses Mexican folk art. These famous little papier mache and wooden animals can now be found in museums and galleries across the world and they are recognized as being the supreme expression of the very best that Mexican folk art and handicrafts have to offer. They are often so whimsical and fluid that they seem to be alive, but these animal figures have an incredible history!
Alebrijes Wood Carvings and Papier Mache Figures
The most widely accepted account of the origin of alebrijes tells of a man from Mexico City called Pedro Linares who had a strange dream in which there were weird and wonderful animals that seemed to be made up of many different brightly colored animals. The animals made sounds and spoke in a language he couldn’t understand, but one word stood out: “alebrije”. This is, or so the story says, how these figurines first got their name.
Pedro Linares, then went on to recreate the animals of his dreams in papier mache following the traditions that were current at the time in the 1930s of mask and piñata making, with Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera becoming two of his most famous fans. The story goes that his animals were so popular that the artisans in the state of Oaxaca took his designs in papier mache to inspire their wood carving designs, which now dominate the Mexican folk art scene today.
Alebrijes Wood Carvings in Oaxaca
Most of the alebrijes wood carvings that you find in Oaxaca’s villages are inspired by the Pedro Linares’ tradition, with the most skilled animal figures being made from separate wooden pieces that can be dismantled. The creation of these figures is a family affair; generally men carve the alebrijes and the women in the family paint them. The wood carving is not done with machinery, but with machetes and knives, and the painting is done with varied brushes and off the shelf paint, and yet these simple methods create some of the most unforgettable pieces of art!
All Kinds of Wooden Animals you Can Conceive
The painted wooden figures can range from dragons and mermaids to rabbits and armadillo. All of these figures are painted in unusual and lively color combinations. There is something highly magical about alebrijes wood carvings that you could spend a whole day in a folkart gallery or artist’s studio before making a decision about which piece you want to have in your home.