Alebrije

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Alebrijes [ah-lay-bree-hay] are brightly colored Oaxacan folk art sculptures of fantastical creatures. The first alebrijes, along with use of the term, originated with Mexican artisan Pedro Linares (1906 – 1992). Linares specialized in making piñatas, carnival masks, and ‘Judas’ figures from papier-mâché. In the 1930s, he fell ill and dreamt of a strange place resembling a forest. There, he saw clouds that transformed into strange, brightly colored animals. He saw a donkey with butterfly wings, a rooster with bull horns, a lion with an eagle head, and all of them were shouting the nonsensical word, ‘Alebrijes.’ Upon recovery, he began recreating the creatures he saw in cardboard and paper mache and called them Alebrijes.

His work caught the attention of a gallery owner in Cuernavaca, in the south of Mexico and later, of artists Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo. In the 1980s, British Filmmaker, Judith Bronowski, arranged an itinerant Mexican art craft demonstration workshop in the US featuring Linares, Manuel Jiménez, and a textile artisan Maria Sabina. Linares demonstrated his designs on family visits and which were adapted to the carving of a local wood called copal. The paper mache-to-wood carving adaptation was pioneered by Jiménez. This version of the craft has since spread to a number of other towns, most notably San Martín Tilcajete and La Unión Tejalapan, and become a major source of income for the area, especially for Tilcajete. The success of the craft, however, has led to the depletion of the native copal trees.

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