Our Tales From The Road
Posted on Sep 23rd, 2006
Alebrijes are the fantastic mythological carved and paper mache figures you find in Mexico's market- places, villages and regions of Mexico. The name was conceived by the paper mache artist, Pedro Linares (1906-1992) of Mexico city. The word came to him in a dream, many years ago, when he was ill with fever and delirium. In the dream he was being chased by beastly dragon like creatures that were screaming 'alebrije, alebrije'. When he awoke from the dream, he began creating these figures out of paper mache, wire, reed and glue and painted them with bright clashing colors. They became wildly popular and the movement has spawned generations of artists who mimicked Pedro's work.
Around this same time, over 50 years ago, a farmer from Arrazola, Oaxaca, Manuel Jimenez, began carving simple animals from wood and selling them, unpainted, in the local markets. Little by little, his unpainted figures were purchased by tourists in the Oaxaca markets, and his little business grew. As his carving business grew, he began painting his figures with simple, beautiful style and color. The public loved it and soon his neighbors saw that he was able to supplement his farmer's income with the art he was making and they began carving too.
Over time, villagers in Arrazola, San Martin Tilcajete and other villages were making and selling carved figures in the markets around Oaxaca. The craze really took off during the late 1960's and 1970's and is still going strong today with literally hundreds of artists working in this medium of carved and paper mache animals, saints, angels, mythological beasts and dragon figures. In March of l2005, Manuel Jimenez, considered the "Great Master" and grandfather of Alebrije carving passed away. His work is honored in the beautiful Banamex book, "The Great Masters of Mexican Folk Art"
His sons Angelico and Isaiah, and his grandsons Moises and Armando still carry on the family tradition, carving in the style of their father and grandfather. In honor of their father, Isaiah and Angelico still sign Manuel's name along with theirs, to honor the work, creativity and gift that their father passed on to them.
Armando, also the Alcade/Mayor of Arrazola, began carving when he was about 15 years old. He worked side by side with his father and grandfather and brother Moises learning the techniques of carving with machetes, knives and developing his own style of creating the life like animals that he makes. He is a skilled carver who works with Copalillo wood that it is still wet and alive. The main body is carved separately from the smaller parts, the ears, tails and sometimes arms and legs which are carved, puttied and glued.The entire piece is then carefully dried in the shade sanded to a smooth finish then painted. Each piece is a unique creation with a strong presence, good humor and likeness to the animal it represents.